Hear that? That's the sound of all of us breathing a collective sigh ofrelief.

Including you. You just did it.

Because Firewall Dragon's dead forever.

I don't know if the last six weeks of Yu-Gi-Oh! have truly been the worstas some have said. We've gotten through a lot of difficult situationsbefore. Remember when Tele-DAD would fill literally every slot in the TopCut of YCS tournaments? Or when Crush Card Virus was a $1200 win button,and then when the much-vaunted reprint finally arrived it turned out to bea one-per-case short print in a limited release only available in hobbystores? Or let's go even further back, to the era of Yata-Garasu hand lock,or The Time When Everyone Played The Exact Same 40 Cards In Their ChaosBeatdown Deck.

I don't really know if Firewall Dragon's escalating reign of terror wasworse than all of that. But it doesn't really matter. What matters is thatit was bad. And while everything started much earlier this year as a sortof slowly rising boil, we eventually figured out that it was a frog in thepot type of situation. Things just kept getting worse and worse, and evenif it took us a while to notice, there was no escaping it anyways.

The Firewall situation was agonizing for a lot of different reasons: on onehand, sure, it sucked to get FTK'd or locked down by Extra Links, none ofwhich ever felt deserved. They just happened, and the mantra of "I don'tfeel like I got a chance to play" is the most un-fun thing imaginablein a game we play for fun.

But it wasn't just that. The Firewall situation was a perfect storm,because not only did it cost you the fun of being able to play it oftentook a long time in doing so, as Turn 1's dragged on and on. The only worsething than getting beaten with no recourse is having to watch it happen forupwards of 10 to 15 minutes.

And at the same time the bitterest pill might've been the fact that we wereall entirely aware of the fact that things could've been so much better.The first big tournaments of the current format seemed to usher in a newvalue-driven mode of play, where combo decks continued to thrive, butsuddenly card economy and careful manipulation of tempo mattered again. Itwas actually looking pretty good for a bit there and many of us feltoptimistic. Extra Links were still a problem, but Sky Strikers clearly gota bit of a boost and seemed to herald a healthy shift in the way weapproached the game.

And that just meant we got lifted up for a shining couple of weeks beforewe got slammed back down again. I think it's that unique combination offactors that made the last couple of months so painful, and why it was soincredibly important to fix it.

And now it's fixed. So let's talk about the solutions, and why they're moreinteresting than you might suspect.

Ripping Off The Plot Armor
You might remember that last time aroundI had a different take on the continued survival of Firewall Dragon. The last F&L List clearly skirted Firewall and aimed to remove thecards surrounding it instead, creating a mixed bag of perfectly healthyrestrictions like Knightmare Goblin and Samsara Lotus, as well as somechanges that almost did more harm than they were worth, stuff like A –Assault Core.

The dueling world cried out "PLOT ARMOR!" in response, operating under thetheory that Firewall Dragon was untouchable due to its role as an ace cardin Yu-Gi-Oh! VRAINS. That didn't really connect with me, since FirewallDragon doesn't actually appear very often in the animated series and itseemed like a generally poor reason to risk the implosion of a globalentertainment brand.

I felt like the real problem was that KDE had just re-released FirewallDragon as a marquee card in the 2018 Mega-Tin Mega Packs a weekbefore the new F&L List was to be announced. It's a tough thing to sellyour audience a big shiny attraction and then tell them they wasted theirmoney just days later. The plot armor seemed like a factor too, but Ididn't think it was the main problem keeping Firewall in play.

That left me believing this was fixable; that Firewall Dragon wasn't immuneto Forbidding, and that KDE's North American office and the R&D teamcould set this right and just Forbid the damn thing so we could move on. Inthe end it took a bit longer than I expected – how sweet would a LimitedList have been in the mean time? – but they got the job done, and it waslikely a team effort. There were lots of accounts coming out of YCSPasadena saying that KDE staff from all three branches of the company'sCard Business arms – North America, Europe, and Japan – were present andgathering player opinions, as well as experiencing the format head-on byplaying in tournaments.

On that note, I think that experience might've been less crucial to somemembers of the KDE teams than others – and far less important than somebelieve. I worked coverage at YCS Niagara when the FTK decks had theirbreakout showing. I spent that weekend sitting next to members of OrganizedPlay who came up through the Judge program over a course of 15 years, whoplay a ton of Yu-Gi-Oh and who know their stuff. They were payingattention.

On the R&D side I don't think anyone needed to tell YCS winner RobBoyajian that FTKs are a problem, nor anyone who works with him. Butregardless I'd guess that a meeting of the minds happened at YCS Pasadena;it's common knowledge that KDE staff flew in from all over the world, andtwelve days later we got a solution. If anybody's mind needed changing, it seems like they got there.

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What we got as a result was a focused list that's seemingly engineered tosolve one problem, as well as a few Unlimitings that were likely includedbecause they were already on the stack and considered a given for the nextF&L List. There was clearly one discussion here, and nobody was goingto waste any time on anything else. The people responsible for these issuesin the TCG clearly knew this was a problem and the brevity of the listdemonstrates that they weren't going to let this continue a second longerthan it needed to.

That's a reassuring thing to anybody who can read the tea leaves.

The cool thing though, is how that unique situation happens to align withthe timing of all this. There are five Regional Qualifiers in North Americabetween now and December 3rd. Anybody playing in those eventswho might want to change their deck and unload some cards in advance of thenew Advanced Format's arrival can't do that, and that's historicallysomething the KDE Organized Play and R&D divisions appear to avoid;nobody wants to leave players feeling screwed, and this exact situation issomething I've spoken of before. The fast turnaround time between now andDecember 3rd ensures that not only does the Firewall problem getsolved ASAP, but it doesn't interfere with further Regionals or YCS Milan.

…And the cool part is that because this list is so narrow, it only reallyaffects players who were relying on Firewall anyways. And while that mightstill be a good chunk of the playerbase, it's a much smaller group than itwould be for a bigger list hitting more decks. It works nicely with thefallout from YCS Pasadena too, where everyone metagamed hard againstFirewall FTK and blew it out. That created an artificially low level ofinterest in the deck heading into this weekend's Regionals. It all justreally comes together.

Does removing Firewall Dragon solve all the problems with Link Summoningand Big Turn 1 Decks? Definitely not. A lot of the infrastructure creatingthose problems still exists, and the general behavior of Yu-Gi-Oh! playerswhen they lose their Biggest Broken Thing is to divert course to The NextMost Biggest Broken Thing. There's no question of what that is: it'sTopologic Gumblar Dragon and Number 86: Heroic Champion – Rhongomyniad. Butfor now the number one problem in the game is gone, and we can rest easierknowing not just that Firewall Dragon's dead, but that the game's being runby a team willing to fix the game when it's broken.

Speaking Of That Infrastructure…
Limited Armageddon Knight and Semi-Limiting Destiny Hero – Malicious isfantastic. On one hand I'd personally love to see Topologic Gumblar Dragonand Number 86: Heroic Champion – Rhongomyniad gone; I don't think eithercard contributes anything constructive and fun to the game, at leastnothing worth the risk those cards present. But Gumblar's a relatively newrelease that's still fresh on the minds and wallets of many players, andlike I said: if they take away the most broken things, we'll usually justsettle for the next most broken things in line anyways.

The new F&L List attacks core infrastructure instead: that's more fairin the short term since the strategies running them lose consistency andpower instead of being killed outright; and likely more effective in thelong term too, since the entire strategy gets diminished instead of justthe arbitrary end product. If you still want to play a Gouki deck aimingfor Gumblar or a Dark Warrior deck keying off of Rhongomyniad, you canstill play those decks. Dark Grepher's a direct replacement for ArmageddonKnight that's more balanced by its cost, and Destiny Hero – Malicious losessignificant power when it's one free combo piece instead of two.

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If Grepher doesn't catch your eye then you've got the option of runningmore Goukis, more Phantom Knights, more generic combo cards like JunkForward and Marauding Captain and Blue Mountain Butterspy, or you canexplore the new engine of Neo-Spacian Aqua Dolphin and Neo Space Connector,courtesy of next week's Soul Fusion Special Edition.

A more cynical individual might consider the idea that someone at KDEwanted to keep combo decks alive in part to keep Neo Space Connector thatmuch more attractive, but I think it's just a convenient win-win given thesituation. Not killing decks on short notice is always good, and if you canmake upcoming cards more interesting and valuable to players in theprocess, why not.

I think Goukis and Dark Warrior variants will definitely continue to seeplay. They may not win – success is always up in the air – but they stillhave a lot of merit and they can still do very strong things. We'reprobably going to see a quick answer to the question of whether they'reworth playing in the long term, but people are going to try regardless, andthey're at least right to make the attempt. While the sheer value angle ofSky Strikers is now even more promising, Thunder Dragons are right there tocapitalize, and big Turn 1s are still capable of answering both.

Limiting Armageddon Knight and Semi-Limiting Malicious was a great choicefor a ton of different reasons, and I think we're really going to come toappreciate those moves over time. And if we don't, and it turns out thatstuff still kinda sucks?

Well, January 21st isn't that far off.

Those Free Unlimitings
Finishing off our focus on the F&L List proper, there are still thosethree cards that snuck their way off to discuss.

A – Assault Core to three is the easiest change to address. In a perfectworld where Firewall Dragon was Forbidden back in September Assault Corenever would've been Limited in the first place, and the small but devotedsect of players who love ABC-Dragon Buster never would've seen theirfavorite deck get curb-stomped. The ABC deck is cool for two reasons:first, it's almost always been competitive, and it's almost always healthyfor competition. It's powerful but it's relatively fair in what it does,and that's led to a lot of rogue Top Cutsin the hands of phenomenal players like Calvin Tahan.

On the other hand, the ABC deck occupies a particular role that'sincredibly useful in the grand scheme of Yu-Gi-Oh,which Doug goes into detail on in his latest video. ABC-Dragon Buster's a viable deck that lets new players and budgetcompetitors have a reasonable gateway to tournament competition. Sure, theaverage duelist won't get the same results as Calvin Tahan might, but thedeck's easy to pick up, it's easy on the wallet, and it delivers a certainlevel of results that can keep players engaged and competitive.

That's absolutely crucial at a time when Link Summoning can make the gametougher to approach, and tougher to stick with if you're not anuber-competitive tournament player. Losing that point of entry was a blowto the game, and seeing it reversed is a big win. It's not enough just toeliminate Firewall Dragon, Grand Murderer Of Fun. The path into the gameneeds to present a range of options with reasonable payoffs, and ABCs canand will be a valuable part of that.

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Moving on, Kozmo Dark Destroyer's back at three! Because why not! Kozmosare basically harmless, and while I wouldn't take the deck to a YCS thereare lots of people who'd like to play the deck at locals or score theirinvite in a Regional Qualifier. Now that Dark Destroyer's back that'spossible again, and the passionate, devoted legion of Kozmo fans can enjoytheir favorite deck again.

Nothing lost, just pure gains. Bringing back Kozmo Dark Destroyer to threemust've been the easiest discussion since bringing back A – Assault Core.

And finally Called by the Grave is back from its brief Semi-Limited status.Like most I'm not entirely sure what the goal was in the first place. DidKDE want to curb the exact type of big combo deck that took over the gamethis year? If so, putting Called by the Grave to two didn't really seem tomatter since the worst offenders weren't playing it by the end of theformat anyways. You could argue that Semi-Limiting Called by the Grave didmore damage to less combo-oriented decks than it did to the moreproblematic ones.

Were they looking instead to shield specific decks that can lose ground bylosing on-theme effects to Called by the Grave? That seems more possible tome. But again, the end result was really just that those decks werehandicapped by the lack of a third copy of Called anyways.

Maybe R&D was just trying to keep everyone from running three copies ofthe same card in every deck, much like the Limiting of Upstart Goblin. Whoknows. Regardless it's back at three, and the game's probably better offfor it.

So What's Next?
If Firewall Dragon was Forbidden for the crime of being The Enemy Of Funand for promoting playstyles that keep your opponent from playing Yu-Gi-Oh,which it almost certainly was, then it's easy to see which cards are goingto be under the microscope. Like I mentioned earlier, Topologic GumblarDragon and Number 86: Heroic Champion – Rhongomyniad create situationswhere you can't play the damn game. They don't do it as consistently or inthe same agonizing length of time as Firewall Dragon, and many of thecombos involving them lose power with Firewall's departure.

But realistically? They're all made from the same sausage. So you've gottabelieve that R&D's going to consider action against those cards comeJanuary.

At the same time I think that despite the history of these things, Rivalryof Warlords and Gozen Match may be under the same microscope. On one handwe don't usually see floodgates get hit very hard on F&L Lists. You'veusually gotta be on the level of Royal Oppression, Skill Drain, or ImperialOrder to get that kind of treatment. What else IS there on the List rightnow? Macro Cosmos and Dimensional Fissure come to mind, but not much else.Soul Drain's always seemed like an edge case. And to carry that forward,it's possible that Rivalry of Warlords and Gozen Match do enough goodthings for upcoming decks that someone in R&D views them as a netpositive anyways.

But to be pragmatic, Hidden Summoners already got players emptyingtheir (Rivalry of) Wallets and spending that (Gozen) Money. There's noreadily apparent monetary interest in keeping Rivalry of Warlords and GozenMatch around on a surface level. I wouldn't bet on those cards hitting theList, but if R&D's taking stock of cards that make Yu-Gi-Oh! less fun Ithink they have to at least evaluate the worth of the game's most popularfloodgates, weighing their worth as strategic standbys and their value inpromoting the use of backrow against the sheer frustration they cause.

Beyond that I'd expect to see everything that R&D just didn't have timefor on the next list. El Shaddoll Construct might be the biggest example –a card that probably has no real reason to be Limited anymore, backed bystrong player demand and R&D's constant desire to slim the List down.One of the biggest critical comments I've seen about this F&L List wasthat it didn't free up enough cards. And I think the answer there issimple: they had a job, that job was to fix the Firewall problem, andeverything else just wasn't worth the wait. If that's true it means we'llsee lots of those safe changes made in January. It's gonna be a good time!

For now, the game's in a far better place tonight than it was just twelvehours ago. There are still questions and lots of things to consider, buthopefully reading all of this helps you form your own conclusions aboutthose topics.

So with all that said, where do you want to see things go from here? How doyou feel about Rhongomyniad and Gumblar? Or Rivalry and Gozen? What cardsdo you want to see taken off house arrest on January 21st?

Let me know down in the comments, and as always, thanks for reading.

-Jason Grabher-Meyer