Woo! Here we are again, staying up late on what's always one of the most exciting occasions in Yu-Gi-Oh: banlist night! Yes, that reliably timed Yu-Gi-Oh! civic holiday that always falls on the first day of the third month, two full moons after the last banlist announcement but twelve days later and three nundines before that. Unless that would place banlist night on a day that ends in an even number. THEN it reverts to five days before the previous Sunday plus or minus one Canadian fortnight. (In metric.)

So as you can see, the new format announcement was right on schedule, as we all expected.

Jokes aside, we have a new Advanced Format headed our way April 1st. It coincides with both the OCG's new format announced last week, and the global arrival of Master Rule 5. We speculated that the powers-that-be would either drop an immediate F&L List to try and head off potential problems in Master Rule 5, or wait a couple weeks and stamp out issues as they appeared in Regional Qualifiers. We'll never know what the plan was, or if it changed; with COVID-19 delaying all scheduled events, waiting around for hard tournament data wasn't an option, if it was ever viable in the first place.

Instead we got a list that serves several goals, some of them surprisingly proactive and quick on the trigger. That makes sense, because Master Rule 5's a massive change and if you're in charge of Yu-Gi-Oh, you probably wanted to eliminate the obvious problems as early as possible; you'd head those problems off at the pass, and you'd make the remaining choices more clear once the List was out in the wild and players started working with it.

Master Rule 5 is huge, but there was another big factor that needed to be controlled as well, the newly-released Crystron Halqifibrax. That card just arrived here in Duel Overload, but it ran roughshod over the OCG for the better part of two and a half years in the OCG. Several of its deadliest enablers are already Forbidden in our game, stuff like Ib the World Chalice Justiciar, but the TCG R&D team's obviously still wary of Crystron Halqifibrax. That absolutely makes sense in a new era where Synchros are no longer handcuffed to Links.

Together, Master Rule 5 and Crystron Halqifibrax seem responsible for at least seven of the new format's 17 total restrictions – 5 Forbiddings, 10 Limits and 2 Semi-Limits – with the rest invested in curbing successful decks from the current format, and stamping out stuff that probably should've never existed in the first place. If you eliminate all the cards that fit those four descriptions you're left with a), a handful of changes in a category I have in my notes as "Stuff That Doesn't Matter", b) a sub-section called "Deep Sea Diva Because It Sells Eternity Code," and c) a burning confusion as to why Mystic Mine's still legal.

Got all that? Let's dive in and go group by group. And let's start with everybody's favorite card nobody can pronounce.

Cards That Were Ridiculous With Crystron Halqifibrax
Poor Loukas. He worked for hours writing an article that was going to be published today, that focused on showcasing some of the craziest Halqifibrax combos in the current format. A third of that article's burned to the ground now, which is sad. But the reality is that two thirds of the absolutely nutty plays Loukas found are still intact, and he'll just replace the remaining third with the next most absolutely nutty plays on the list.

Remember when somebody decided they needed to lobotomize Rescue Cat with an errata because it would only get more powerful with time? Uhh… Where's that guy now? Where is he when we actually NEED his rusty ice pick and his reckless disregard for foreheads?

Anyway, Blackwing – Steam the Cloak was lined up to be the number one most abused card with Crystron Halqifibrax, a free Tuner with a free Token effect that often came back to the field for free , so you could make Simorgh, Bird of Sovereignty for a free Mist Valley Apex Avian. You'd often play it with Union Carrier to stick Mist Valley Thunderbird onto the Simorgh, letting you loop Apex Avian's effect for literally infinite free negations.

So now that's gone. Sam called this one weeks ago, though most players with an ear to the ground probably placed the same bet. Steam the Cloak was clearly going to be Crystron Halqifibrax's first victim.

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From there we lost Glow-Up Bulb as well, another popular pick with Halqifibrax due to the fact that like Steam, Glow-Up Bulb's easily recurred for free, creating a ton of wacky combos that delivered incredible value for close to no effort. Destrudo the Lost Dragon's Frisson bit the dust for similar reasons, a versatile companion to Halqifibrax that also fits into our later categories of "Curbed For Master Rule 5" and "Overpowered Cards That Probably Shouldn't Exist."

From there T.G. Hyper Librarian presented similar problems, with multiple copies appearing in Halqifibrax combos to generate mass draw power and lead into stunning plays for stuff like Cosmic Blazar Dragon. Those plays largely still exist, you just don't get to draw quite as many cards now.

That leaves Jet Synchron as the odd man out. Like Steam and Glow-Up Bulb you can search and summon Jet Synchron with Halqifibrax, then reuse it at low to no cost to make combos that leverage the extreme value of reusable Tuners. Halqifibrax is nowhere near dead with the latest handful of its favorite friends now Forbidden and Limited; it's still exceptionally strong, and Jet Synchron's survival is a big part of that. There's no way R&D isn't aware of the threat here, I just assume they're watching Jet Synchron like a hawk, waiting to see if it's worth a hit come June. Keeping Halqifibrax under control without neutering it entirely is a tricky balancing act.

Cards From Successful Decks In The Current Format
Lunalights were quite good in the current format, as well as the previous one. They were about to get even better thanks to Duel Overload too, as the number one deck to leverage Raidraptor – Wise Strix into Simorgh, Bird of Sovereignty (and Cyber Dragon Infinity by way of Rank-Up-Magic Soul Shave Force). There was so much interest in that combo we saw Soul Shave Force top the best-seller charts in the run-up to Duel Overload.

Lunalights were particularly interesting these last few weeks because while there are lots of ways to get into the big DUOV set-ups like Simorgh plus Union Carrier, Lunalights could do it without many of the less efficient cards required in other strategies. It didn't need to run Curious, the Lightsworn Dominion, or the risky Danger monsters to facilitate it. It could dodge the need for Magicians' Souls too, and their Level 6 albatross, as well as the price tag of three Souls in the first place. Lunalights were set to be tremendously consistent, packed with search effects and flexible combo pieces.

At a time when Master Rule 5's about to widen the competitive field, Lunalights were established, well documented, and just too consistent to not dominate. Hence, Lunalight Tiger is now Forbidden.

SPYRAL Master Plan is similar; SPYRAL was arguably the most dominant deck of the current format, in large part due to Magicians' Souls, which functioned solely thanks to Master Plan. Lots of players were calling for this restriction as the obvious solution, and Konami delivered that fix with swift and extreme prejudice.

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Can Lunalight or SPYRAL survive? Probably not. I don't like either deck's chances in the Master Rule 5 era, competing for player attention with so many other strategies. I guess you can't rule it out: even Sky Strikers managed to put in a solid weekend at the beginning of the current format before players collectively let go of Raye's frozen hand and let her slip into the sweet release of the ocean waves like a bad Titanic reference. But I wouldn't bet on it. I think Lunalights and SPYRAL are both done.

From there Destiny HERO – Malicious got Semi-Limited to rein in Heroes, while Trishula, Dragon of the Ice Barrier was Limited to put a small check on Dinosaurs (which would often summon multiple copies before locking in a win with True King of All Calamities). Now Dinosaurs will have to make a Mist Wurm in that play instead. It's not bad, but it's certainly no Trishula.

Put a pin in Trishula for now, because we're not finished with it just yet.

Cards Curbed For Master Rule 5
In fact, this third category is where we start to see major overlap and I start to hammer home just how dangerous some of these cards were. The first criminal back on the stand is T.G. Hyper Librarian, which I believe was Limited chiefly for its potential in Crystron Halqifibrax shenanigans, but was also just a big existential threat in a world where Synchro Summoning's that much easier.

Like Halqifibrax itself, Hyper Librarian's an amazing stepping stone to bigger and better things, creating a sense of inertia in your plays. It's always great, but it's occasionally amazing when you hit the right draws. A consistently fantastic card that can be even better due to sheer luck and variance is a bad idea to allow in multiples, and I'm sure the good folks in R&D tested that premise extensively so we as players wouldn't have to be subjected to it.

Trishula fits a similar description, becoming far more dangerous in a rule set that doesn't bury it behind Link Summoning. Those cards you would have played to make Link Monsters so you could summon more Trishulas? Under Master Rule 5 you'd use those cards to just summon more Trishulas outright. No middleman. I believe the proven track record of Dinosaurs making multiple Trishulas was what got this thing whacked to one, but if that example didn't exist you could still look back at the turbo decks played by duelists like Chris LeBlanc a few years ago and see an obvious problem.

Sure, LeBlanc abused a single Trishula in a combo-driven strategy by returning it to his Extra Deck and bringing it back out again and again; he didn't need more than one copy anyways. But if you think that rebuts my point you're actually just reinforcing it. Trishula's just that good in multiples.

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Toadally Awesome's Limited for being one of the most abusable, game-shaping Xyz out there, and while you could debate that Bahamut Shark should've taken the hit I think the viewpoint might be that Shark doesn't see much play while Toadally Awesome does; one card's far more powerful in a vacuum where the other doesn't exist. Add in the Limited status of Instant Fusion and you can make a strong case for R&D's decision, though we could easily see this flip-flopped in June if they decide to go the other way. Deep Sea Diva moving to three was definitely a factor here as well.

And finally, ABC-Dragon Buster got Limited into irrelevance, probably for being a better card under Master Rule 5. That's a tenuous position, I know, and I'm not saying I'm for it, but that's the logic I suspect; hitting it because of Union Carrier just doesn't seem that important. I don't think anyone will take ABC-Dragon Buster seriously now that tributing it effectively stops you from playing.

That's interesting because Konami made some sacrifices to take Dragon Buster off the table: players were excited to pair it with Union Driver in Eternity Code and it would've helped move Structure Deck: Mechanized Madness, which we have to assume is still launching stateside on April 17. We might be missing something here: when players are eager for new cards and there are no complicating factors, it doesn't make sense for Konami to stop them from spending money. There could be a bigger issue. But for now, I think we have to chalk up the untimely demise of ABC-Dragon Buster to Master Rule 5 and wonder what might have been.

Cards That Are OP And Probably Shouldn't Exist
Let's put Trishula here again, and take a moment to remember: when Synchros were first released it was incredibly important for them to succeed. As Yu-Gi-Oh's first new card type since Rituals, Synchro Monsters weren't just a milestone for the card game, but were also tied to Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's and the brand as a whole. There wasa a lot of pressure in the wake of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX. One of the biggest problems of the GX era was that almost everything on the TV show was unplayable in real life; that was a big issue because you'd get players (and their parents) spending hundreds of dollars on Elemental HERO cards, heading to tournaments, and then getting utterly destroyed to the point of giving up on Yu-Gi-Oh forever.

As the flagship protag card of 5D's Stardust Dragon needed to be good. But so did everything else surrounding it; if Synchro Monsters were going to be the future of the brand for three or four years, players of all ages and all levels of interest needed to get onboard. That meant the first few Synchros needed to be obviously amazing. Stardust, Brionac, Goyo, Red Dragon Archfiend… so many first wave Synchros were just crazy right off the bat.

...And then they weren't.

For a couple years the best Synchro Monsters were largely front-loaded in The Duelist Genesis (and to a lesser extent Duel Terminal 1). For every Black Rose Dragon there were half a dozen Turbo Warriors and Iron Chain Dragons, Psychic Lifetrancers and Queen of Thorns. Those cards weren't bad per se, but they sure looked it next to stuff like Goyo Guardian. And then Trishula hit the scene and reinvigorated everything. Synchros didn't necessarily need saving, but maybe they never sunk to that point because Trishula arrived at the right time. Trishula's not just a game-shaping card on the table, it's a history-shaping card for Yu-Gi-Oh! itself, and maybe letting people run three of them was a bit much.

Moving on, Danger!? Jackalope? and Danger!? Tsuchinoko? were too powerful at 3-per-deck, and proved to be overpowered at 2-per-deck as well, even with Danger! Nessie! Limited. I think a big part of that was the easy access they gave to Curious, the Lightsworn Dominion, which I'm sort of surprised made it through to the next format. Like Crystron Halqifibrax and Rescue Cat, Curious' power level scales up over time as it gets a more diverse range of cards to search, as well as more efficient ways to summon it. Limiting the best Danger monsters attacks Curious on that latter axis.

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With a material requirement of three monsters with matching attribute but different types, and an incredibly high level of utility overall, the Dangers were quickly recognized as an excellent way to set up Curious shenanigans. More than that, they were also general extenders for almost any play you wanted. The writing was on the wall for a very long time, as Dangers proved incredibly problematic by creating FTK combos at the Championship level on what was practically their first weekend out. They never really stopped being weird and overpowered since. Is this the last nail in the Danger coffin? Probably not; expect them to still see some play despite the large banhammer dents in their little skulls. But me personally? I'm wondering where this leaves Plunder Patroll, a theme that seemed custom crafted to capitalize on Dangers.

Mind Control's a different beast altogether. It wasn't designed with a high power level in mind, but it had a big advantage that grew over time; it's so old that that it didn't have a once-per-turn clause. As Yu-Gi-Oh! changed to be more and more about controlling the field with monsters packing negation effects, and an increasing number of cards were released that could answer those threats once per turn, Mind Control's value grew as a low risk counter just because it was utterly ancient. I wrote before that Konami's move to Semi-Limit Mind Control felt like a precursor to a full Limit and now it's happened.

That leaves Instant Fusion, a card that should probably be Forbidden entirely. A while ago I posted asking which was more broken: Super Polymerization or Instant Fusion. I made the remark that if you didn't think Instant Fusion was broken, you weren't remembering all the cards it landed on the F&L List. I caught immediate flak for that, as several posters challenged me to name anything beyond Elder Entity Norden.

That surprised me, because in my mind the list of cards Instant Fusion's dragged down includes every strategy that's ever been nailed by the F&L List because Instant Fusion helped push its power level into unacceptable territory. That's what Instant Fusion does; it takes great combo-driven decks and then acts as both a starter to make them more reliable, and an extender to make them more powerful. All for the cost of a measly 1000 Life Points. And it does it reliably.

Sure, it's a hard once-per-turn and if you draw a second copy you can't activate it. But honestly, it doesn't really matter. The number of games where Instant Fusion wins you the duel is exponentially higher than the number of games where it creates damaging risks. Never mind the fact that you can pitch it for other stuff, or that combos like El Shaddoll Winda and Light Dragon @Ignister can help you cheat Instant Fusion's drawback.

The card's just busted on every level, and while it's now Limited to one, that's balanced by Predaplant Verte Anaconda. I wouldn't be surprised if Instant Fusion's gone in June, but for now it's still here. The only reason I'm not describing its sins in even greater depth is that I know Zach's probably writing an even longer dissertation on why Instant Fusion's poison for game balance.

Changes That Don't Matter
And from here we bat cleanup. Sky Striker Mecha - Widow Anchor moving to two doesn't matter because Sky Strikers aren't viable. Necroface hasn't done anything in years. Some people believed Pot of Avarice would make an impact when it was brought back to Limited status for the current format, but it didn't. It won't do anything at 3-per-deck either; it's simply too slow for modern competition.

I think the smart money bet is that SPYRAL without Master Plan isn't good enough. If that's the case, then even triple SPYRAL GEAR – Drone with Machine Duplication won't matter. Consider how viable SPYRAL was before Magicians' Souls, then remove Master Plan from that grand sum total, and add whatever you think triple Drone and Master Rule 5 is worth. I think all you end up with is a going-second deck that's too fragile to be consistent.

Zoodiacs made an impression early on in this format, leveraging easy access to Infinitrack Fortress Megaclops. But trading two copies of Barrage for Zoodiac Drident is a dangerous deal, and we'll have to wait and see how it fares. Personally I don't see Zoodiacs being consistent enough with one Barrrage, and maybe that was the point; just slowly walking cards off the F&L List as we so often see, gradually affirming that a change isn't dangerous. But this isn't cut-and-dried, and I could see a determined Zoo player pulling off an upset somewhere once competition's back on.

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Finally Deep Sea Diva stands in its own category, released to 3-per-deck in preparation for the new Deep Sea theme in Eternity Code. 2019 was kind of The Year Of New Themes That Didn't Cut It, and frankly I wouldn't mind if we see some F&L List choices made to give new themes a better shot in 2020. I think 2019 was a strong year for Yu-Gi-Oh! overall, but it definitely stretched the patience of many players as new release after new release struggled in tournaments. Deep Sea Diva to three makes a ton of sense and I don't imagine anyone's going to complain.

…That said, a few things didn't make as much sense, at least to me. First up, why's Mystic Mine still here? I think the most generous thing you could say about Mystic Mine is that in some limited cases – mostly slanted toward the beginning of this format – Mystic Mine let certain strategies survive to create more diversity in tournaments. Whether or not diversity's a good thing is up to you; I'm generally in favor of it, just because most players prefer a broad spectrum of deck choices and I tend to back whatever ensures the future of the game. But I'm not sure diversity due to Mystic Mine is what we need, and given the sloping play this card has scene in recent weeks I'm not sure it even accomplishes that.

Players hate losing to Mystic Mine; it feels arbitrary on a level akin to Yata Lock, a win condition that just swings out of nowhere to punish you for reasons you couldn't control. That's bad for pretty much any game, but it's especially damaging to a TCG where you have to invest, travel, and spend real prep time just to compete. When you've built your deck, driven to a tournament and committed your whole day to dueling you really don't want to lose to something that feels so brutally unfair. Higher level competitors can shrug that off, at least sometimes, but the average player isn't winning with Mystic Mine and they definitely hate losing to it.

Last up, Super Polymerization's crazy now and gets even crazier with Master Rule 5. It's huge for Predaplant Verte Anaconda and keeping players excited about new cards they just bought is important, so this one's a rock and a hard place for Konami: nobody wants to shell out for a brand-new card, get hyped about it, and then watch it get nerfed a week later. At the same time we've now got another format of more dodgy Super Polymerization plays breaking up big boards and, perhaps worse, stealing games in the Battle Phase. I get it, you can't rip value from paying customers, but I hope we finally see Super Polymerization gone in June. It's going to make a big impression come April.

It's 4am, so I think that draws my thoughts to a close on the new F&L List. With tournaments delayed we won't really know how this format shapes up as quickly as we normally would, and the usual stakes are missing from competition. It's a good time to just play what you want, and with a lot of the format's more broken strategies now stunted, the field's even more open. We're all going to have to put in some prep time and see what happens!

-Jason Grabher-Meyer