If you were playing Yu-Gi-Oh during the 5D's era you'll probably have strong memories of the Hidden Arsenal series and the new themes that debuted with it.
In 2008 Konami launched a product that was essentially an arcade cabinet stuffed with Yu-Gi-Oh cards–the Duel Terminal–which would eventually be imported to western regions. Because Duel Terminals were physical machines usually located in hobby shops, they were out of reach for many players; the mass release of the unique cards from Duel Terminal sets came with the seven-part Hidden Arsenal series.
This week we're reliving the 5D's era from the original Hidden Arsenal set through Hidden Arsenal 7: Knight of Stars. Hidden Arsenal introduced over a dozen themes, and I'll be ranking all of them on their competitive potential. It's hard to talk about each deck in terms of how it would play today, so I'll be heavily weighing the historical performance of each theme. For example, Constellars were largely powercrept by Satellarknights, but they were a serious strategy when they first debuted in Hidden Arsenal 7: Knight of Stars.
I think there are six themes that are undeniably the worst of the Duel Terminal strategies; decks that were unplayable on release and only became worse over time, as power creep made their playstyles irrelevant.
Some decks, like Ally of Justice, just had poor design. The Ally of Justice theme was built around the gimmick of countering Light monsters, which is fantastic if you're playing against a deck that's packed with Lights. Unfortunately, you might as well be playing Normal Monsters otherwise.
There were a few standouts in the Ally of Justice theme, including Ally of Justice Cycle Reader, a pretty popular Side Deck card today. Ally of Justice Quarantine was solid, and Ally of Justice Catastor was an Extra Deck staple for years. I've always been a big fan of Ally of Justice Decisive Armor, and there was even a time where you could summon it against a Blue-Eyes deck to rip away their hand and potentially burn them for game.
Speaking of Dark Machines, Genex also never took off as a dedicated strategy. There are two good cards in the Genex theme: Genex Ally Birdman, which is Limited even today, and Genex Undine. Both cards made waves in decks outside of Genex and were important tournament cards for years. That's more than you can say for the rest of the themes in this category.
What do Jurracs, Vylon, and Gusto all have in common? That's right: they're all terrible. The best card in the Jurrac theme is Jurrac Aeolo by virtue of being a Level 1 Tuner that Miscellaneousaurus can summon from the deck.
Jurrac Guaiba saw some competitive play after Evolzar Dolkka and Evolzar Laggia were released in Photon Shockwave, and I always liked Jurrac Dino, but there's nothing that this deck does that Souleating Oviraptor and friends don't do better.
Vylon had an odd Equip Spell-focused strategy that was somehow even worse than Noble Knights. Vylon Disigma notable as a solid Rank 4 Xyz that took three materials, but it was eventually surpassed by the two-material Number 101: Silent Honor ARK. The Gusto Extra Deck also had value in it with Daigusto Emeral and Daigusto Phoenix, but the Main Deck was clearly lacking. I think Gusto Griffin the most interesting card in the theme, and I've used it in Dragunity builds in the past to turn discards into free monsters with Dragon Ravine and Dragunity Knight - Gae Dearg.
Last, but maybe not the least of the least, is Naturia. There are quite a few monsters here, and the theme actually has some of the best Extra Deck cards in the game. Naturia Beast and Naturia Barkion are fantastic, and Naturia Exterio the go-to Fusion to cheat out with Cyber-Stein.
The deck's Main Deck monsters aren't terribly strong, but at the time Naturia Cherries was highly valued despite seeing very little tournament play. Naturia Bamboo Shoot and Naturia Pineapple very nearly came together for an oppressive lockdown strategy in 2010, but ultimately it never panned out.
The next block of themes were never regular tournament-toppers. Luckily they were at least competitive enough to see action at a casual or local level.
Worm Stun was actually solid: using Worm Yagan and Worm Xex with W Nebula Meteorite and Worm King to draw cards and build field presence wasn't a bad strategy. Some players even scored an invite at their Regionals with the deck. W Nebula Meteorite might be an interesting tech choice for the upcoming Abhyss theme in Ancient Guardians, but the time has passed for standalone Worms to be competitive.
Flamvells and Lavals were roughly similar in terms of their explosive Synchro summoning power, and they rely on a lot of the same cards. Flamvell Firedog used to be fantastic when it was first released. Those days are long past, but Rekindling was a game-winner for the deck at a time when Level 8 Synchros were among the best cards in the game. Lavals have a significantly more 'modern' engine with a few excellent cards that have yet to arrive in the TCG. I'm not sure when Laval Archer is coming to the TCG, but in the meantime there are two new Synchros coming in Lightning Overdrive.
Mist Valley cards have the most value when Divine Wind of Mist Valley is on the field–a card that's currently Limited. When Divine Wind of Mist Valley wasn't Limited there was an interesting build you could attempt with Mist Valley Falcon, Mist Valley Apex Avian, and Ninjitsu Art of Transformation with Ninja Grandmaster Hanzo. Today, Mist Valley Apex Avian sees play exclusively with Simorgh, Bird of Sovereignty and some Pendulum builds, but the infinite negation build was once playable even before Links.
Finally, Gem-Knights had a fantastic Fusion Spell that was a competitive staple for several formats. Brilliant Fusion remains Forbidden today, and the Gem-Knight FTK was, until last year, a viable competitive option. Gishki fell into the same boat of being largely successful thanks to an FTK, and both decks saw Top 8 Regional performances from time to time.
Two of the Duel Terminal world themes get new support this month: the new Ice Barrier cards in Structure Deck: Freezing Chains boost the theme from unplayable to casually competitive, and new Fabled cards in Blazing Vortex arm the deck with a Field Spell that doubles as a discard outlet with a deck search effect.
Fabled were always the more competitive theme, and they made better use of the Ice Barrier Synchros like Brionac, Dragon of the Ice Barrier and Trishula, Dragon of the Ice Barrier. That might still be the case after this week, but Ice Barriers now have a lot more tools at their disposal to try and form a coherent Main Deck engine. If you want to see a current build, check out Loukas's latest article!
While most of the Duel Terminal series was directed towards casual play, there were a few standouts that had their time to shine as the decks-to-beat of specific formats.
No deck was as successful as X-Sabers in their prime, but it took a lot of work to get there. X-Sabers weren't competitive out of the box, and they really didn't do much until Konami juiced the theme with three World Premiere cards: XX-Saber Emmersblade, XX-Saber Boggart Knight, and XX-Saber Darksoul. XX-Saber Darksoul was especially powerful upon release, as it was frequently ruled that its search effect would activate in the End Phase up to the number of times it was sent to the graveyard that turn. X-Saber players could end up searching three or more cards just off of XX-Saber Darksoul effect.
Evilswarm–the better variant of Steelswarm–and Constellars had serious tournament chops that made them relevant just before Spellbooks and Dragon Rulers blew up for the format. Evilswarm had a much better match-up against Dragon Rulers thanks to Evilswarm Ophion floodgate effect, and its ability to search Infestation Pandemic was also helpful against Spellbooks.
Constellars might have been the better pick in a format without those two giants, but the deck wasn't bad by any stretch. Rank 4-focused strategies would only get better in the coming years, and without Satellarknights I think both themes might have kept seeing play well into the second half of 2014.
Dragunity also lands among the best Duel Terminal themes, though ironically it's mostly thanks to Dragon Rulers. In my last article I outlined how devastating the ban on Dragon Ravine was to Dragunity, and why it was entirely the fault of the Dragon Ruler and Dragunity hybrid.
Despite that, it's impossible to ignore just how strong Dragon Rulers were when combined with the Dragunity Synchro engine. The late 2013 build of Dragon Rulers had fantastic Level 8 Synchro access, which gave the deck more flexibility and a searchable pathway to Crimson Blader for the mirror match. Pure Dragunity made a few YCS showings in early 2013 before promptly being dropped for other Synchro strategies, and since then its components have mainly been appropriated for Dragon Link combos.
It's really hard to top the undisputed success of X-Sabers in the post-Shining Darkness format. They've held the record for event tops among all the Duel Terminal themes for nearly eleven years, but that could change over time. We're two months into 2021 and there's already new support for Ice Barriers and Fableds, while Dragunity are poised to pick up more cards in Ghosts From The Past in April. Lavals also have new cards coming their way in Lightning Overdrive in June.
Konami's clearly targeting Duel Terminal themes for retro support in 2021, and I think we'll see even more of them get some much-needed attention in the second half of the year.
Until next time then