So the new Forbidden & Limited List just dropped an hour ago as I'm writing this, and so far the most vocal response has been confusion, with a good spoonful of blinding rage mixed in. Despite many players calling for the banning of everything from Crystron Halqifibrax and Mecha Phantom Beast Auroradon to Mystic Mine, Jet Synchron, Mecha Phantom Beast O-Lion and key cards for Adamancipators and Eldlich, the new List only brings three changes. None of them are restrictions: Altergeist Multifaker, Nekroz of Unicore and Ritual Beast Ulti-Cannahawk all moved from Limited status to 3-per-deck.
Naturally the angriest responders were the first ones to take up their battlestations on Reddit and Facebook. With almost three months of online play guiding the dialogue of competitive Yu-Gi-Oh, there's a faction of players who feel like we have a full format's worth of data already – to their credit, they largely feel that way because they've been actively competing in that format for several months. At the same time there's a similar sentiment from players who aren't playing Yu-Gi-Oh right now, but who hate seeing competition revolve around a handful of cards like Halqifibrax.
A lot of those players are furious this afternoon, for reasons that make sense from their perspective. While the bulk of the Yu-Gi-Oh audience is stuck taking a break, a stalwart few have still been dueling for hours every week, as trends shift and the newest strategies evolve in a vacuum of real life play.
I get that. I see where those people are coming from, and make no mistake they're some of the most devoted players Yu-Gi-Oh has. But the reality is this…
Konami Can't Ban Cards You Haven't Had A Chance To Play Yet
That's what this comes down to. If you picked up Duel Overload, Secret Slayers or Eternity Code, either buying packs or just ordering the singles you needed, you made an investment. Yu-Gi-Oh's not cheap, and the market's been really active the last ten weeks: on one hand there's a legion of bored duelfans picking up cards, often just because it's something to do; and on the other hand there's a faction of players driving up prices, windmilling down their stimulus checks in attack mode. A lot of players spent a lot of money on cards during the pandemic. Many more threw fistfuls of cash into Duel Overload just before lockdowns hit.
Konami can't punish those customers for buying Yu-Gi-Oh.
They wouldn't want to, and they shouldn't. A vast number of players preordered Duel Overload, Secret Slayers and even Eternity Code long before COVID-19 was recognized as a global threat. I'm sure there's somebody out there who'll say that anyone buying cards during a pandemic somehow deserves to get screwed, but I don't think that holds up very well when you start to poke holes in the logic.
There are some exceptions, but the bulk of the players who shelled out for new cards probably want to play them. Those players deserve to get what they paid for, and they bought those cards under the assumption that they'd be useful for at least some period of time. Duel Overload dropped on March 20th. Lockdowns started a few days later. Konami can't betray their paying customers just because you're already tired of Eldlich the Golden Lord.
They also can't demolish the stores that sell Yu-Gi-Oh and run tournaments, many of which are just starting to reopen. Local game stores are the lifeblood of our hobby, giving us a place to shop, to meet other players, and to compete on a weekly basis. It's no secret: game stores are largely small independent businesses, and like most small businesses they've been hit really hard by the pandemic. Many of them have closed. More are going to close before we return to a new normal.
As those stores transition to curbside pick-up and limited walk-in service, selling Yu-Gi-Oh is going to be a significant part of their survival plan. If all of a sudden the best cards from the last three sets are kicked to the curb, more stores would go under. Owners would lose their livelihood and communities would lose their gathering places.
There was no choice here. A heavy-handed F&L List would have left thousands of players feeling robbed, and would have caused serious damage to stores and communities. The decision-makers at Konami did the only thing that made sense.
So Why Make Any Changes At All?
Personally I was a bit surprised at today's announcement, not because it made so few changes but because it existed at all. I didn't think Konami would release any updates, for the reasons I outlined above. You could probably argue it might have been a better PR move to remain silent. But the list does accomplish a few things, some obvious and some not.
First, all three cards released from the F&L List bolster fan-favorite decks. Ritual Beasts and Nekroz probably aren't going to be competitive, but players have been asking for those restrictions to be loosened for some time. A lot of people are going to build and play those decks even if it's just for fun. Altergeists are in a similar boat; it's a unique deck with a big fan following, and you only have to look as far as Doug's twitter to see the kind of response Altergeist fans are putting out there.
Altergeist's a bit different, because the deck could easily put in some competitive showings. It won't oust the format's biggest strategies, but it can hit some Top Cuts and it has merit. All three of the changes are welcome ones, and each has at least a casual audience.
Beyond that, all three changes could also help make future releases stronger. Dragma arrive in Rise of the Duelist in August, and Dragma Nekroz is a thing, making Nekroz of Unicore relevant. There's no TCG release date yet for Structure Deck: Masters of the Spiritual Arts , but players are already interested in what it could do for Ritual Beasts. Altergeist Memorygant and Altergeist Pookuery may be arriving sooner than later. With no ability to restrict cards, Konami took the opportunity to make a handful of changes that are crowd-pleasers now, and smart business moves in the future.
Was that worth the initial backlash from the Halqifibrax haters? Well, probably. Because…
The List Lasts Until At Least September
Of all the information circulating around the new F&L List, this is probably the most important. By releasing a new List that guarantees stability until September 1st, Konami sends a direct message to players and stores: the cards you buy now are safe for at least three months.
That's huge, because for many of the holdouts and the wait-and-sees, it's an all-clear to finally invest in the cards they've been holding back on. For stores it's even more important: it's an assurance that if they're holding cases of DUOV, SESL and ETCO, that product isn't going to plunge in value overnight, right when they're trying to claw their way back. For players it just means the gloves are off and you can go back to buying Yu-Gi-Oh if you weren't already. That's big, don't get me wrong. But for local games stores this is even bigger; it's a blanket assurance that they can rely on Yu-Gi-Oh as they work to survive.
For store owners the future of Yu-Gi-Oh products was a black box, and that's the kind of ambiguity that keeps people from making confident business decisions. Today, store owners can get a bit more sleep.
Look, to a lot of us this is just a silly looking banlist that doesn't touch the top decks. But to some people, this is hope. It's hope for their business, their families, and the communities they've worked to create and support. That September 1st date is way more important than it looks.
Speaking Of Dates
It's also important to remember that Konami continues to evaluate the status of sanctioned tournaments on a monthly basis. While lots of other games are effectively closing up shop for the year and trying to take their business online, Yu-Gi-Oh's OTS tournaments and promotional events are only officially delayed for the month of June.
Apart from locals, remember that when KDE announced the cancellation of 2020 WCQs in early April, they also announced that they were committed to running National Championships in Latin America and Europe, State Championships in Oceania, and continental Championships everywhere, all this year. We may still see a lot of competitive Yu-Gi-Oh in 2020. We'll have to wait and find out.
For now though, everybody in Yu-Gi-Oh knows a lot more about what the summer's going to look like. Get ready, because the decks that are dominating now will still be the decks to beat when tournaments open up again. Plan accordingly, plan to support your locals, and take a moment to breathe; be kind, to yourself and others. The world's working through a lot of problems right now, and Yu-Gi-Oh's going to be fine.