We've all heard the term "power creep" in the context of trading card games like Yu-Gi-Oh. The gradual increase in power of new cards over months or years is the most immediate consequence of a business model that seeks continual buy-ins for each new release.
Yu-Gi-Oh's constantly one-upping itself to sell new product that has value to players who already own enough cards to build a deck, and from a competitive perspective there are very few ways to make that sales pitch successfully. Konami can either design more powerful cards that force players to reinvest to maintain a competitive edge, or they can create new ways to play that offer competitive advantages without making existing cards obsolete.
Designing games is incredibly challenging, and Konami has a tendency to overshoot their goals with certain cards and themes. The "new hotness" can sometimes become a must-play card or theme that dominates the competitive field. We went through some growing pains with Synchro Monsters back in2008 when Tele-DAD suddenly became the only serious competitive strategy. The whole point of the Forbidden & Limited List is to hit the brakes on the worst offenders of power creep. After all, if the best deck for competitive play existed in 2008 and remained untouched today, why would anyone buy new cards if they wanted to win as many games as possible?
It's hard to know exactly when over-tuned cards or strategies will blow up the carefully balanced competitive scene, or even just make the game less fun for casual local-level players. Again, game design isn't a walk in the park, so it's understandable that occasionally something will slip through the cracks. The Forbidden List is full of cards that will never see the light of day again, but not all of them were surprises when they hit theTCG. Extremely powerful cards usually make waves in the OCG long before they debut here, and that's been clearer than ever during the Link era.
There's a handful of upcoming cards that are insanely powerful, but none more so thanCrystron Halqifibrax. Its upcoming arrival in the TCG does two things: it contextualizes the nearly two year wait for it to arrive here in the first place, and secondly, it raises the question of whether or not cards should be restricted immediately upon release in the TCG. If that happens withCrystron Halqifibraxit wouldn't be the first time.
Why Was Crystron Halqifibrax Delayed Anyways?
Crystron Halqifibraxdebuted in the OCG back in 2017, but it's only arriving in the TCG thisMarch following a two-year wait. That's a shockingly long wait time, especially because other new cards from the same set arrived much faster.
Interestingly, Halqifibrax is arguably the best Link Monster fromLink VRAINS Pack, and I don't think that's an accident. Halqifibrax has dominated competitive play in the OCG as an Extra Deck staple in nearly every championship-level strategy. I think it's explicitly telling that the single best card from the set also took the longest to arrive in the TCG, but it's hard to know exactly why Konami put off importing it for so long.
I don't think it's fair to say that Halqifibrax was delayed to achieve some goal. Maybe the TCG side of Konami had some idea that it might be easier to maintain the game's balance without Halqifibrax's influence. Maybe the delay was to coincide with the new Master Rule updates that affect Synchro, Fusion, and Xyz Monsters. After all, Crystrons are a Synchro theme, and Halqifibrax is a significant buff to any deck with quick access to Tuners.
But to be clear: I don't know why Halqifibrax was kept out of the TCG for so long, and I also doubt that anyone outside of Konami knows with any certainty. We're not really here to speculate about procedure: we're hereto discuss whether Halqifibrax's absence had a positive impact on the game.
Everyone has a different idea of what Yu-Gi-Oh! should ideally look like.There are dedicated players who travel around the country - or the world -chasing Championship titles, while thousands more are just looking for cool cards or fun win conditions to play against their friends. Halqifibrax's balance issues really only affect competitive play at and above the local level, although we all might be surprised to find out just how small that subset of players actually is.
Konami also has their own idea of what a balanced game should look like, and we already know of a handful of cards that don't fit into that picture.Think of stuff like Summon Sorceress, Firewall Dragon, Guardragon Agarpain,and Knightmare Mermaid. All of those cards landed on the Forbidden List for roughly similar reasons: each of them is a Link Monster that Summons more monsters, and in the Link era the ability to field monsters is often the sole qualifier for a competitive strategy.
Crystron Halqifibraxfalls into largely the same category as the bulk of the already-ForbiddenLinks in the TCG. Its effect Summons Tuners from the deck at virtually no cost without a significant "for the rest of the turn" penalty. The ability to Summon Mecha Phantom Beast O-Lion, which itself Summons a Token when it's sent to the graveyard, without any major drawbacks makes Halqifibraxan incredible asset to decks looking to Link climb.
And of course virtually every deck wants to climb to Link 4s Like SaryujaSkull Dread to draw more cards and Summon monsters from the hand, or climb into game-enders like Borrelsword Dragon. Halqifibrax couldn't be better positioned come April when the new rule changes take effect, and it'll easily be one of the most important cards at every World ChampionshipQualifier.
But wait, is Halqifibrax really that good? After all, there are othermonsters that do roughly the same thing that are still perfectly legal.Sure, Summon Sorceress is Forbidden, but SPYRAL Double Helix, Isolde, TwoTales of the Noble Knights, and Galatea, the Orcust Automaton haven't beenForbidden yet, so maybe Halqifibrax could stick around in the TCG without breaking the game. Personally I'd love to see Halqifibrax work its way into the competitive landscape without completely busting a handful of already-powerful strategies.
Unfortunately I don't think the comparisons to existing Link Monsters are valid: they're simply not as generic as Halqifibrax, and many of them are much more conditional. It's incredibly easy to play a couple of Tuners to fuel Halqifibrax's Summon while keeping a target in the deck for itsSpecial Summon effect, and there are too many Tuners with built-in SpecialSummons to even begin restricting those instead.
A World With, Or Without Crystron Halqifibrax
Let's try imagining the last couple of years with Halqifibrax in the TCG.Picture the top Link decks of the last two years, including those that were just playing Guardragons and Saryuja, and imagine them with Halqifibrax in addition to SPYRAL Double Helix, Isolde, Summon Sorceress, and KnightmareMermaid.
Imagine how many more pathways decks like Goukis would have had to handloops with Topologic Gumblar Dragon or Extra Links. Consider just how manymore ways those decks could start their plays by skipping to Link 3 almost immediately thanks to Halqifibrax's help, especially while Summon Sorceress was legal. Try picturing just how many more Tuner monsters would be on theForbidden List today if Halqifibrax had been legal for years already.
I think it's fair to say that some of Halqifibrax's power has been reigned in thanks to Summon Sorceress landing on the Forbidden List. It's a bit harder to convert Halqifibrax and O-Lion into something meaningful withoutSummon Sorceress to help out. Still, it's hard to see Halqifibrax as anything other than the single best play-extending Link 2 in the game for generic Link strategies. Yes, Isolde and theme-specific Links are often better - like Galatea - but it's hard to beat Halqifibrax when you're not playing themed cards offering dedicated paths to higher Link Summons.
Maybe it's more important to ask whether Halqifibrax is still worth keeping out of the TCG. It definitely would have been a disaster before, but there's some opportunity now for it to actually raise the floor for decks other than Orcusts, Sky Strikers, and Salamangreats. It's certainly a boon for Crystron decks, and Synchro strategies that emerge in April will definitely appreciate Halqifibrax whether they're playing Junk Speeder or not.
That said, Halqifibrax could be a bigger problem in April than it ever could have been over the last two years. As far as I can tell the optimalstrategy in April for Synchro themes will be to prioritize Crystal WingDragon to negate Nibiru, the Primal Being, and then begin spamming degenerate combos that loop Trishula, Dragon of the Ice Barrier. The availability of certain Synchros needs serious work before the new rule update arrives, but we should get a preview of that on the next Forbidden& Limited List. In the meantime Halqifibrax presents a balancing problem that could end up preventing players from having more than a couple of cards in their hand on their first turn.
Keep in mind that Halqifibrax's current status in the OCG makes the situation even more complicated. Despite its overwhelming popularity over the last few years it has yet to hit the Forbidden List. That's honestly shocking, but it's worth considering the optics of releasing a card in theTCG that's currently Forbidden in the OCG. It's hard to get players to invest in a card if they think it'll end up on the Forbidden List three months later.
That said, Konami does have methods of balancing a card that's on its wayto the TCG. In fact, they've used these methods before to balance some of the game's best cards before they arrived in the TCG. Gorz the Emissary ofDarkness, Dandylion, and Sixth Sense were all Limited immediately uponintroduction here. You could argue that Halqifibrax should be Limited onMarch 20th when it debuts in Duel Overload, but there's only marginal benefit to Limiting a card that'll probably be a one-of anyways.
Ultimately, Konami has three options when importing cards that are blatantly and obviously overpowered in the OCG. First, they can simply never release the card in its current form, although I can't think of an example where that's happened since Halqifibrax was finally announced.Second, Konami can release a card with a restriction already attached.Lastly, there's always the "just release it and see what happens" approach we've experienced for the vast majority of releases.
Even the TCG's experiences with the Danger! theme didn't translate into preemptive restrictions in the OCG, so an instant Limit on Halqifibrax is unlikely. Maybe the timing will pay off, or maybe Halqifibrax will break the game next format regardless. I guess you can't keep highly-desired cards away from the TCG forever, but I wonder if we'd be better off for it.
Until next time then
Kelly Locke is a West Michigan gamer and writer, and he studied marketing at Western Michigan University. You canfollow him on Twitter for more updates.