Yu-Gi-Oh changed forever in 2008, when Synchro Monsters were first introduced to the game.
Fusion and Ritual Summons became a thing of the past almost instantly, as powerful Synchros like Stardust Dragon, Colossal Fighter, and Goyo Guardian took center stage in casual and competitive play. Since then, Synchros have had their own highs and lows: they peaked in 2011 right before Xyz Monsters entered the game, but they've made resurgences at times thanks to Pendulums, and even Link Monsters like Crystron Halqifibrax.
This week we're looking at the best Synchros in Yu-Gi-Oh's history, all the way from The Duelist Genesis in the beginning, on up through the last few years. The game's most impactful Synchros are largely from those first three years from 2008 to 2011, but plenty of outstanding Synchros that have debuted since.
Level 6 Synchros were extremely well positioned in 2008 thanks to a shortage of generic Level 4 Tuners. When TeleDAD died off as a competitive strategy in 2009 thanks to an aggressive set of restrictions on the Forbidden & Limited List, Level 6 and Level 7 Synchros became much more common compared to Level 8s.
Back in the day, Goyo Guardian biggest claim to fame was its ability to attack over Stardust Dragon and Thought Ruler Archfiend, and take control of them. Goyo Guardian was a consistently strong pick for virtually any Extra Deck for years, but that came to a halt when it was Forbidden in 2011. It returned in 2014 in the TCG as a Limited card, but remained Forbidden in the OCG. Goyo Guardian eventually came back with a new summoning requirement that demanded an Earth Tuner, and the post-errata Goyo Guardian promptly fell out of competitive play.
Strangely, Ancient Fairy Dragon was an incredibly underwhelming Synchro for nearly a decade before it was Forbidden. Its ability to destroy and search Field Spells was occasionally useful, but its summon-from-hand effect was even less popular.
But over time that changed, and Ancient Fairy Dragon transformed into a strong combo card that often let players get that one extra summon they needed to load their field with monsters or perform certain FTKs. Destrudo, the Lost Dragon's Frisson totally broke Ancient Fairy Dragon in combination with Dragon Ravine, and Destrudo the Lost Dragon's Frisson met a similar fate later on, being Forbidden itself.
For me, Brionac, Dragon of the Ice Barrier was one of the first eye-opening moments where I realized just how powerful Synchros could be. Its non-targeting removal effect was available to nearly any deck, in an instantly accessible Level 6 package, and its position as a discard outlet made it uniquely strong in a number of graveyard-dependent strategies. Combo decks that desperately wanted to load specific cards into their graveyard could finally do so without the help of a bulky, narrow discard-costed card like Lightning Vortex or Raigeki Break, which made cards like Blackwing - Vayu, the Emblem of Honor even stronger in late 2009.
Brionac, Dragon of the Ice Barrier ability to return your own cards to the hand was totally busted, and eventually resulted in its position on the F&L List. That version of the card doesn't even exist in the game anymore–although Konami would eventually repeat their mistake with Orea, the Sylvan High Arbiter–and the errata'd version of Brionac, Dragon of the Ice Barrier we have today doesn't see much use.
The Level 7 Dark Strike Fighter was once the premiere OTK Synchro in Yu-Gi-Oh thanks to its unrestricted burn effect.
Like so many other cards in the game, including Cannon Soldier and Mass Driver, any card that lets you tribute monsters indefinitely is probably going to cause issues. In Dark Strike Fighter case you'd rarely need to set up any kind of loop to burn out your opponent's Life Points. You'd deal 4000 damage between its own ATK and the burn effect tributing Dark Strike Fighter itself.
Add in a couple of additional attacks, or maybe just a second Dark Strike Fighter, and your opponent's Life Points would quickly collapse to zero. Blackwings and Rescue Cat landed this card on the Forbidden List for years until an errata returned it to the game in a significantly less abusable form.
Card effects that interact with your opponent's hand have always been powerful, especially when they permanently banish cards. Trishula, Dragon of the Ice Barrier became the pinnacle of Synchro strategies when it emerged in early 2011. Its non-targeting banish effect made it a fantastic pick for breaking boards and crippling your opponent's ability to make follow-up plays.
Trishula, Dragon of the Ice Barrier legacy is carried on in Ritual and Fusion form, with Nekroz of Trishula and Trishula, the Dragon of Icy Imprisonment, plus the updated Synchro Trishula, Zero Dragon of the Ice Barrier. Trishula, Dragon of the Ice Barrier itself still holds up today, even in an era of negation bodies and Link monsters.
Unlimited spell negation used to be the exclusive domain of Imperial Order, Spell Canceller, and Horus the Black Flame Dragon LV8. Naturia Beast upset the status quo by offering Earth themes, or decks that could make a Level 5 Synchro with Earth monsters, the ability to completely shut out their opponent's spell activations.
Most negation bodies don't offer unlimited negations, but Naturia Beast effectively gives you just that. It's easily among the game's strongest negation bodies, but its power has been greatly diminished in an era of monster effects and unchainable negation from Dark Ruler No More and Forbidden Droplet.
With its anti-destruction effect and spell and trap negation it's no surprise that Legendary Six Samurai - Shi En became a format-defining card. That said, the Six Samurai engine backing it and enabling its quick and easy summon set Legendary Six Samurai - Shi En apart from other themed boss monsters at the time.
Legendary Six Samurai - Shi En was the heart of the Storm of Ragnarok Six Samurai deck–fueled by the absurd interactions between Six Samurai United and Gateway of the Six. Six Samurai were, for a while, the best deck in the game thanks in large part to Legendary Six Samurai - Shi En incredible accessibility and negation power.
There are only a few cards that are as obviously degenerate as T.G. Hyper Librarian. It lets you draw each time you Synchro Summon; of course it'd be completely busted!
T.G. Hyper Librarian helped fuel big Synchro Summons for the game's most powerful cards, including Shooting Quasar Dragon, while letting you draw card after card along the way. Controlling two copies led to insane amounts of draw power on a level that just isn't possible today, and without Level Eater I'm not sure how overpowered two copies of T.G. Hyper Librarian would be anyways. That said, I can't imagine it leaving the Limited list anytime soon.
It might not look it today, but it's really hard to overstate the impact Scrap Dragon made on the 2010 Synchro toolbox. In many ways it was the Castel, the Skyblaster Musketeer of Synchros: a serious removal tech outside of Brionac, Dragon of the Ice Barrier attached to a Level 8 Synchro with 2800 ATK. There was so much going for Scrap Dragon when it first released, but in today's game its role has been overtaken by Knightmare Phoenix and other cards with readily-available removal effects.
The devastating temporary floodgate of Crimson Blader won't do much to today's Xyz and Link-heavy strategies, but even in 2013 it was helping score wins against decks with lots of high Level monsters. Blocking most of your opponent's summons for a turn is huge, although actually destroying a monster in battle is increasingly difficult in today's game. Crimson Blader might not find its way into mainstream Extra Decks ever again, but it's still a workable low-key tech that can catch opponent's off guard.
There are lots of ways to play Herald of the Arc Light. It's a negation effect, a floodgate, and a means to search a Ritual Monster or spell. Herald of the Arc Light role in Ritual strategies has become its true home over the years, even before Extra-Foolish Burial debuted. Nekroz Kaleidoscope effectively replaces itself thanks to Herald of the Arc Light search effect.
More recently, both Dogmatika Punishment and Diviner of the Herald can trigger Herald of the Arc Light effect, and Diviner of the Herald in particular is seeing a lot of play as a fantastic enabler for Drytrons.
Believe it or not, Denglong, First of the Yang Zing is unresrtricted in the OCG. Yep, you can go ahead and run three copies of this card in your OCG Yang Zing build. Denglong, First of the Yang Zing fantastic in Yang Zing, obviously, but it also has generic material requirements and self-searches a Counter Trap.
Resolving Nine Pillars of Yang Zing, with Chiwen, Light of the Yang Zing while negating an opposing card, letting you then summon another Yang Zing from your deck to make Herald of the Arc Light on your opponent's turn. Tricky plays like that are a big part of why Denglong, First of the Yang Zing is currently Forbidden, although it's worth questioning how effective those same plays would be today.
Another currently Forbidden Synchro, Ib the World Chalice Justiciar shares a lot of similarities with Denglong, First of the Yang Zing. It searches for a card when it's summoned, and it brings out another monster from the deck when it leaves the field. In Ib the World Chalice Justiciar case the card you're typically searching for is the extender World Legacy Succession, which naturally made Ib the World Chalice Justiciar an important part in a number of absurd combos. Those plays put Ib the World Chalice Justiciar on the radar, and rightfully so, especially since its materials are completely generic.
Anyone playing Yu-Gi-Oh today has already run into this card plenty of times. Borreload Savage Dragon is an amazing negation body that puts its ancestors like Stardust Dragon to shame. It's hard to ignore just how versatile Borreload Savage Dragon effect is and its effortless power creep of Crystal Wing Synchro Dragon.
There's very little reason to play any other Synchro with a negation effect unless it's in addition to Borreload Savage Dragon. Yes, it's not the best for every single situation, but it's just so versatile that it's rarely worth considering the alternatives. Borreload Savage Dragon easily among the best Synchros in the game, and outside of Herald of the Arc Light it might be the most influential Synchro in the last several years.
Black Rose Dragon
This list had the potential to be absolutely massive. There are so many fantastic Synchros that were released over the course of Yu-Gi-Oh history, though there was a noticeable dropoff in 2012 as Xyz began taking more slots in core sets. Some especially powerful Synchros have emerged in recent years, including the last two cards on this list: Ib the World Chalice Justiciar and Borreload Savage Dragon.
Synchros are definitely here to stay, especially now that they aren't attached to the Extra Monster Zone. Links are now enablers for Synchros rather than a limiter on their power. I can't help wondering how many more Tuners have to hit the Forbidden List to appease Crystron Halqifibrax, and how many of them will return if Crystron Halqifibrax itself is Forbidden.
Until next time then