Ritual Summons have always been among Yu-Gi-Oh's least-supported mechanics. There are over one hundred Ritual monsters and nearly seventy Ritual Spells in the game, but only a tiny handful of Ritual-based strategies have seen any major success. Contrast that with Fusion Monsters, which outnumber Rituals four to one, and the dozens of successful Fusion-based strategies that have been mainstream throughout the years. Shaddolls, Invoked, Destruction Sword, Gladiator Beasts, HEROs, and Cyber Dragons have all leveraged Fusions effectively as serious competitive decks. They're still a minority compared to other Extra Deck summoning methods, but Rituals are clearly the weakest type of Monster Card in the game.
But when Rituals are good, they're really good.
It's hard to criticize Rituals in 2021 while Drytron is one of the game's strongest competitive decks. Rituals have plenty of mechanical issues, but every few years there's a new deck that can break through those fundamental problems and abuse the best cards the Ritual category has to offer. And yeah, there are a lot of excellent Ritual monsters to leverage if you have the right engine. Drytron's one of those engines — just like Nekroz was years ago. These decks hit the scene at opportune moments after years of generic Ritual support, and then show us exactly why cards like Herald of Ultimateness and Djinn Releaser of Rituals were mistakes.
This week we're taking a look at the best Ritual monsters in the game, and spoiler alert: most of them are either played in Drytrons today, or Nekroz decks in the past. There really isn't much space for Rituals outside of those two themes, despite Konami's recent attempt with Megalith. These two decks have an extremely strong engine that negates most of the downsides associated with the Ritual Summon mechanic. As a result, they're almost always easier to summon and they usually provide more value on and off the field.
We're cheating a bit with our first card. Sauravis, the Ancient and Ascended is a fantastic card, but it's not really played as a Ritual monster. Instead, it's a hand trap that can negate a card or effect that targets a monster you control. Sauravis has never been the game's most popular hand trap tech, so you'll typically only see it in the rare list where someone really doesn't want their monster to be negated by Infinite Impermanence or Effect Veiler. In a form where Called by the Grave is Limited, and in situations where PSY-Framegear Gamma is useless, Sauravis fills an important niche that makes it worth considering. Unfortunately Sauravis can't counter Forbidden Droplet, so it can't defend your set-up or help you if you're playing second in the duel.
I'm totally biased here: I think Prediction Princess Tarotrei is insanely fun to play. It has three great effects that largely benefit Flip monsters and Flip strategies. I used to play it often in Subterrors before Subterror Guru was available. You could tribute Subterror Behemoth Stalagmo for the Ritual Summon, then Special Summon Stalagmo during the End Phase and resolve its Flip effect before the end of the turn. Oh, and you could summon Subterror Nemesis Warrior in the process! Pot of The Forbidden is another fantastic target for her effect, and another card that fulfills the tribute requirement for Tarotrei on its own. I think what's holding back Tarotrie isn't the Ritual mechanic, but rather, the lack of a great high-Level Flip theme to abuse it.
We're headed deep into the Secret Forces territory, and the home of the Nekroz tribe. The 2015 pack introduced one of the game's strongest competitive themes of all time. Nekroz of Clausolas doubled as a search effect for the theme's Ritual Spells, but it wasn't just a hand-activated Senju of the Ten-Thousand Hands. Clausolas' on-field Quick Effect was a complete blowout against the Extra Deck monster your opponent was relying on to break your set-up. It's still a powerful defensive tool — even if a single non-destruction negation is no longer enough in today's game.
Trishula, Dragon of the Ice Barrier was one of the most fearsome Synchros in the game. It's not nearly as threatening today, thanks to more widespread counters, and Nekroz of Trishula was already countered by simply keeping your hand empty of cards when it was summoned. Its first effect can't counter the most damaging cards to the Nekroz engine, like Ash Blossom & Joyous Spring or Droll & Lock Bird. That said, it's still a devastating card to resolve against most decks. It's a great follow-up to a Dark Ruler No More or Forbidden Droplet, and its ability to banish a card from the hand is significantly more unexpected in 2021.
Unsurprisingly, Nekroz of Brionac is taking a spot on this list. There was a time when this card was one of the most wanted cards in the game, and it led to players opening box after box of Secret Forces hoping to pull a copy. Its importance as a search card for the theme can't be overstated. It's a crucial piece of the core Nekroz engine that fetches every other piece, and since most of the other Nekroz monsters have discard effects, it's plainly obvious how flexible a copy of Brionac. It's the one card that you absolutely want to see in your opening hand — to the point where its on-field effect could do nothing and it'd still be one of the best Ritual monsters in the game's history.
The floodgate effect of Nekroz of Unicore is terrifyingly strong even today. I'm sure we'd all be complaining about Unicore today if Nekroz were still competitive, but that's luckily not the case. What's holding Nekroz back isn't the deck's cards or engine. Instead, it's the prevalence of outstanding hand traps that can bring the strategy to a grinding halt on the first turn of the duel. Modern strategies are playing significantly more hand trap today than in 2015–two years before Ash Blossom & Joyous Spring. Unicore's floodgate effect is still awesome, and a Link monster with the same text would become a must-play overnight. Nekroz doesn't have any issues summoning Unicore, it's just that they can't hang against the overwhelming number of interruptions being played in modern Yu-Gi-Oh.
Formerly a popular pick in Drytrons, Herald of Ultimateness has fallen out of favor against the Level 6 version, Herald of Perfection. Ultimateness is a stronger card with better stats and more coverage in its negation effect, but its Ritual Spell isn't as economical compared to Dawn of the Herald. It's still insanely powerful, of course, as long as you're playing a deck with enough Fairy monsters to support it.
The offensive powerhouse of the Drytron theme is Drytron Meteonis Draconids. Drytrons themselves don't necessarily spend a lot of time summoning their on-theme Rituals, and instead focus on another card that we'll be talking about shortly. Draconids has incredible stats with a fantastic Quick Effect to match, but it's not just a defender. Its second effect lets it break boards during the Battle Phase by simply running down all of your opponent's monsters while being immune to their targeting effects. If you can't break their board, you can always leave Draconids on the field and trigger its Quick Effect later to send up to two of their face-up cards to the graveyard. Drytrons are currently finding the most success as a control strategy today, but Draconids implies a more offensive variant just waiting to be explored in a post-Herald format.
Speaking of Heralds, 2010's biggest surprise in the Yu-Gi-Oh world was the sudden emergence of Herald of Perfection. Armed with a fleet of Fairy monsters, a few innovative players developed a strategy to summon Herald of Perfection and, well, sit on it until their opponent ran out of cards. It was largely a gimmick for years until Cyber Angels delivered a serious engine to abuse it with. Today, Herald of Perfection exists to frustrate players in the Drytron match-up, pairing effortlessly with other Drytron cards to lock opponents behind a wall of negation effects. Drytrons have no problems fueling Perfection's negation effect, and Draconids is the perfect offensive powerhouse to pair with it.
The only Ritual on the Forbidden & Limited List is Cyber Angel Benten, and that's for good reason. I'm not sure why or how Benten was released with a once-per-turn clause attached to its last effect, although at least at this point it can't add another copy of itself. Benten is extremely simple: it's a free lifeline to all of the Light Fairy monsters in your deck, and it can be leveraged as often as you like during a single turn. Benten can find ammo for Herald of Perfection, grab a Herald of Orange Light for more negation, search Diviner of the Herald to net more search effects, or grab Eva to eventually find even more Fairy monsters.
Cyber Angel Benten is giving the formerly-Forbidden Evigishki Gustkraken a run for its money as the game's most broken Ritual monster. Gustkraken loops aren't really viable anymore, but Benten seems primed for abuse no matter what hits come to Drytrons on the next F&L List — if there are any at all. It's a shame, because Rituals as a mechanic can't seem to find a groove where they're not absurdly degenerate, while also staying competitive against modern strategies. Nekroz owe much of their success to the now-Forbidden Djinn Releaser of Rituals, and we might be saying similar things about Drytrons on the future.
Maybe there's still time for Prediction Princess Tarotrei to make a comeback, or for decks like Megaliths to have a better shot at competitive success.
Until next time then!