When it comes to online dueling platforms, there have been many failed attempts at a solid, official game. I've suffered through Yu-Gi-Oh! Legacy of the Duelist, Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Generation, and even the original online dueling application from almost five years ago. When the brand new Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Links dropped for Android and iOS I saw a lot of mixed reactions from the dueling community, and the maybe too cheesy release commercial wasn't helping. The big question on everyone's mind was simple: was this going to be another failure?

The short answer? No, the game's surprisingly great.

Since I downloaded it on my phone two weeks ago I've played it every single day, something that's never happened to me with any of the other attempts at an official online Yu-Gi-Oh! game. Sure, the start of the story mode is a bit slow, but for the first time I never felt pressured to purchase packs with real money to be able to compete. By the time you unlock the Ranked Mode you should have a decent deck, especially considering the hundreds of free gems – in-game currency – that Konami gave to players who downloaded the game early.

I wanted to write this article because I honestly believe that Duel Links is an incredibly unique game that can appeal to both casual and competitive Yu-Gi-Oh! players. If you haven't tried it out yet you might think that it's another generic old school card game simulator, with Vorse Raider and Summoned Skull dominating the Ranked Mode backed by consistency boosters like Pot of Greed, Graceful Charity, and Monster Reborn.

But awesomely enough, none of those cards are in this game at all, and in fact, most of the older overpowered cards are missing from thee app entirely. 1800 beaters like 7 Colored Fish and Dunames Dark Witch don't exist, adding a new layer of diversity to what could have been a stale-upon-release game. But there are also newer cards in the environment that never had a chance to shine in real life Yu-Gi-Oh, many of which happen to be incredibly good in this refined metagame.

Today I wanted to take a look at what makes Duel Links so interesting, what the top decks and cards are in Ranked Mode, and how TCG duelists can learn something from a brand new format that we've never seen before. But first…

The Gameplay Changes
It's impossible for me to describe the competitive metagame without outlining the core gameplay changes that were made to get Yu-Gi-Oh! to work on a mobile app. It's pretty close to playing on a Duel Terminal machine, but here's a quick rundown:

- Players start with 4000 Life Points

- Players start with four cards in hand, not five

- There are only three monster card zones

- There are only three spell and trap card zones

- There's no Main Phase 2

- The Extra Deck can have up to five cards

- The Main Deck minimum is 20 cards

- Each character has a skill, ranging from Life Point gain to Field Spells at the start of the duel

Other than that, the game plays like you'd expect Yu-Gi-Oh! to play, without Xyz, Synchros, or Pendulum Monsters. It's worth pointing out that the Extra Deck is still called the Extra Deck, not a Fusion Deck, which gives them the option to add those card types if the game runners want to later. Considering how successful this application has been so far, I wouldn't be surprised to see those additions, even if it's basic stuff like Scrap Archfiend or Gaia Knight, the Force of the Earth.

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The character skills actually play a huge role in determining what decks are the best. By starting the duel with a Field Spell activated you can instantly have an advantage over your opponent by automatically having higher ATK monsters. The two best decks right now are without a doubt Water and Dinosaurs, both of which take full advantage of Umi and Jurassic World, respectively. Jurassic World's particularly useful because it gives your Dinosaurs a 300 point boost, something that none of the other Field Spells can do. I'm actually not sure why they didn't put Wasteland as the skill instead, but that's not up to me.

So what makes these two decks better than the rest? For context, realize that one of the strongest Normal Summons in the game is Jerry Beans Man because its 1750 ATK can run over Axe Raider and Battle Ox, as well as a slew of other 1700 ATK monsters. In regards to Dinosaurs, Element Saurus starts with 1800 ATK under Jurassic World, while Crawling Dragon #2 and Two-Headed King Rex start with an alarming 1900 ATK. On paper and in practice, Dinosaurs are the best strategy for raw force, often requiring the opponent to waste multiple ATK modifiers on each basic Normal Summon, lest they quickly be stampeded. Because all of the Dinosaur Normal Summons are so strong it's also one of the most consistent decks available. There's no real combo pieces to draw into, and there aren't any bad cards, either.

Water, on the other hand, has less power but better combos. High Tide Gyojin can run over Element Saurus when boosted by Umi, but it struggles to deal with the 1900 ATK Dinosaurs. Unshaven Angler bumps up to a respectable 1700 ATK and 1800 DEF, which can block most regular attacks on the first turn. Then you can treat it as two tributes for a Water monster, and there are three awesome choices. Levia Dragon - Daedalus is the most obvious choice, and you can use its effect right away because you start the game with Umi activated. Suijin is another option, and because of the lack of spot removal it's quite difficult to remove from the field without wasting two monsters. Lastly, Silent Abyss is an unexpected choice that can wipe whole fields similar to Levia Dragon - Daedalus, but you'll get to keep your Umi on the field.

What's important to note is that removal is hard to come by in Duel Links, and two of the aforementioned monsters can destroy entire setups. Michizure, Order to Charge, and Yomi Ship are the three best pieces of monster destruction, and I'm not even kidding. There's no Dark Hole, Raigeki, Mirror Force, or even Trap Hole. That's one of the biggest advantages that Water has over any other strategy, but it's not the only one.

Big Wave Small Wave might not be the most powerful spell in Duel Links, but it's the most impactful. It's a huge minus: you're losing the spell itself, as well as whatever monsters you destroy, and you're not gaining any cards in the process. But you can use it on your first or second turn to get out any of those Tribute Monsters, a tempo swing that no other deck can match. The only strategy that can put big monsters out that fast is stuff running Thunder Dragon to make Thunder Dragon' rel="https://yugioh.tcgplayer.com/db/WP-CH.asp?CN=Twin-Headed Thunder Dragon">Twin-Headed Thunder Dragon, but that's just a 2800 ATK non-effect monster.

Because it's so easy to build decks in this game I almost don't want to address that as a factor, but Water is by far easier to make than Dinosaurs. While you can build Water just by regularly playing the game and buying a specific pack with your gems, Dinosaurs require you to go out of your way to challenge Rex Raptor over and over again to earn Two-Headed King Rex and Crawling Dragon #2. I think they're both equally good, but throughout the higher ranks you'll run into Water pretty much every other game. It's definitely the most popular choice.

So What Are The Best Cards?
I've already mentioned the three best monster removal cards: Yomi Ship, Order to Charge, and Michizure. Those are all generic, and Yomi Ship gets a boost from Umi, making it a staple in Water decks. There are a few specialized monster removals but they're all largely impractical. What this means is you'll usually be attacking over monsters to destroy them, implying that ATK modifiers are going to be played a lot. So what's the best ATK modifier?

Wonder Balloons.

Not only is Wonder Balloons the best ATK modifier, it's also the best card in the game. There, I said it. Wonder Balloons is a Continuous Spell that lets you pitch cards in your hand once per turn to place counters on it, and then your opponent's monsters lose 300 ATK for each counter. In other words, the first time you play Wonder Balloons you'll probably just discard one card. That 300 ATK difference pushes a lot of battles in your favor, and it's enough to last you for a couple turns.

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But Wonder Balloons can get more counters down the road, dropping your opponent's monsters by 600, 900, and even 1200 ATK in the process. In a tempo-based game like this that's invaluable, and it's why Wonder Balloons is seen in virtually every competitive deck.

It's also important to note that there isn't a lot of spell and trap removal, either. De Spell and Twister are the best options, but it puts your opponent in a rough spot if they only have one. Obviously Wonder Balloons is a top priority over Field Spells, but that means if you wasted the destruction on the Field Spell early on and your opponent draws Wonder Balloons you've basically lost the game. It creates this weird dynamic of saving destruction for cards your opponent may or may not have, but it also puts decks that don't run the Field Spell skill at an inherent disadvantage because their Wonder Balloons will always get destroyed.

Some of the other top cards include Naturia Strawberry and Bazoo the Soul Eater, the former being the best Turn 1 summon while the latter cleans up kills in the late game. I'm a big fan of both cards, and they're great replacements for monsters you might not have three copies of if you're building the best decks. Feel free to also check out one of my recent Youtube videos where I break down the Top 10 strongest cards in the game, which analyzes a few others that I haven't mentioned.

How Does This Apply To Actual Yu-Gi-Oh?
What Duel Links has taught me about Yu-Gi-Oh! is that the strangest, off-the-wall cards can become competitive if the conditions are just right. We've seen this happen alot in Side Deck choices, where normally horrible cards like Overworked, Gravelstorm, Wiretap, and Magical Spring end up being perfect choices to counter the best deck.

But we can even apply Wonder Balloons logic to metagames where spell and trap removal is used sparingly. That's exactly how Patrick Hoban was able to win the 2013 WCQ with Main Decked Vanity's Emptiness in Dragon Rulers. If nobody is using a ton of spell and trap Card Destruction then a card like Emptiness is a lot more disruptive, and Hoban rode that to a Championship win.

I also think the duality between Dinosaurs and Water is a great example of power versus consistency, a debate that's been around in Yu-Gi-Oh! for as long as I can remember. Dinosaurs are clearly the more consistent choice, but Water can create "unbreakable" boards that no other deck in Duel Links is capable of. Even on a fundamental level you see this debate translate to modern Yu-Gi-Oh, and it'd be interesting to see how people's real life deck choices translate into Duel Links.

Lastly, I think that Duel Links is a great example of how a few gameplay changes can affect Yu-Gi-Oh! dramatically. When the new Field Spell rule was added to let both players have Field Spells, players didn't realize how much that would matter. But now we're seeing Terraforming and a ton of Field Spells affect competitive formats time and time again, and the Field Spell change makes way more sense. Assuming Yu-Gi-Oh! is going to be around for a while, I wonder if there's ever going to be gameplay changes as important as the Field Spell one, getting rid of priority, or drawing on Turn 1.

Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Links has already been one of the most successful official releases for a Yu-Gi-Oh! online game, and we're only in the first couple weeks. I've been a fan of it since Day 1, and I hope that this article has persuaded at least a couple people to try the game out. As cliché as it sounds, Duel Links is easy to pick up but difficult to master, and I think showcasing the diverse metagame changes proves that. I look forward to each new release that Konami has planned in-game, and I can't wait to continue to increase my rank and discover better strategies and new tech picks!

-Doug Zeeff

Doug Zeeff hails from Michigan and is currently an English major in college. When he's not found emailing Konami about why there's not a single walrus card in all of Yu-Gi-Oh! you can find him regularly posting unorthodox, unfiltered semi-Yu-Gi-Oh! related content on his Youtube channel, Dzeeff. In his spare time he enjoys eating cheese, Overwatch, and, of course, playing Yu-Gi-Oh. Click here to follow him and his adventures on Facebook!