Have you ever been disappointed in a deck?
I'm a strong advocate for moderating your own expectations, but sometimes you can't help being excited for a new card or a new theme. In 2016 I was certain that Subterrors were the next Kozmo or Burning Abyss: an excellent World Premiere theme that would be playable out of the gate and continue to improve over time. My investment in copies of The Hidden City didn't pay off for years–Subterror Guru finally salvaged the strategy years later, but in the meantime Subterrors did a whole lot of nothing.
Hype can get you into a lot of trouble, and the Yu-Gi-Oh community–myself included–have let hype lead us to some completely wrong conclusions. This week we're taking a look at the biggest flops in Yu-Gi-Oh history: the decks that were hyped up to be meta-killers and fell short in the worst way possible.
Of all the flops in Yu-Gi-Oh, and there are a lot to choose from, the implosion of Dark Worlds at YCS Columbus in 2011 is probably the most well-known example of a deck completely failing to launch.
Expectations for Dark Worlds were extremely high following the Gates of the Underworld Structure Deck, and Dark World was expected to perform well at YCS Columbus thanks to the deck's new cards. Grapha, Dragon Lord of Dark World may seem underwhelming today, but in 2011 it was probably the best Structure Deck boss monster we'd ever had. Only Machina Fortress came close to matching Grapha, Dragon Lord of Dark World power and utility. In fact, Grapha, Dragon Lord of Dark World looked so good that lots of players showed up with their Side Decks loaded with tech for the matchup, making it almost impossible for Dark World players.
Konami also invested in the hype. Written coverage of YCS Columbus featured blog posts from Grapha, Dragon Lord of Dark World itself, which led to this hilarious concession in the event's aftermath, or Grapha-ftermath, when exactly zero Dark World decks cracked the Top 32.
It's really hard to top the epic overestimation of Dark World's competitive chops, but keep in mind that it wasn't just Konami who got this wrong. A big chunk of the community was sold on the idea that Dark Worlds were about to take over the game and make Plant Synchro irrelevant. Instead, the March 2012 Forbidden & Limited List had to step in to finally destroy Plant Synchro by banning Glow-Up Bulb, Spore, and Trishula, Dragon of the Ice Barrier.
Destiny Soldiers dropped a bunch of support for three casual themes: Destiny Heroes, Abyss Actors, and Darklords. I think most players understood immediately that Destiny Heroes and Abyss Actors weren't winning tournaments anytime soon, but there was a good amount of hype for Darklords.
There were some pretty good cards that already existed to support the deck, like Darklord Superbia, Valhalla, Hall of the Fallen, and Archlord Kristya, and the new cards looked incredible. Darklord Ixchel set up your graveyard while drawing cards while letting you use the effects of your Darklord spells and traps in your graveyard, including the card destruction effect of Darklord Rebellion.
Darklords never saw any competitive success despite new cards like Condemned Darklord and The Sanctified Darklord. I think a big part of the problem is that there simply aren't enough good cards to make the theme viable. Darklord Ixchel has one of the only worthwhile effects, leaving the deck starved for good monsters. Darklord Morningstar will realistically never resolve even with help from the relatively new Indulged Darklord.
Interestingly, a handful of Darklord cards got reprints in Maximum Gold just last year, which might be a response to Indulged Darklord, or might instead be a hint to something coming in the future.
The hype behind Subterrors was largely driven by the past success of high-rarity World Premiere themes in the TCG. Kozmos were a huge deck-to-beat at one point, and Burning Abyss had a shockingly long run as a Championship-level strategy. World Premiere cards had boosted decks like Plant Synchro and X-Sabers to new heights, so it made sense that a deck with a Secret Rare Field Spell would probably end up being competitive. Instead, Subterrors struggled out of the gate and fell even further behind with each new release.
Subterrors did eventually find solid footing when the OCG's Subterror Guru finally arrived in the TCG. Subterror Guru introduced a new way to play Subterrors that replaced the clunky Subterror Behemoths with interruption effects and floodgates.
Subterrors stopped being a Flip deck and quickly became a Stun strategy that saw more value in face-up monsters than face-down ones. It's just a fact that a face-up monster with a quick or continuous effect provides more value than a set monster, and Subterrors were able to make the correct transition thanks to Guru's power.
Amorphages are the biggest disaster that almost happened in Yu-Gi-Oh. There was a lot of discussion leading up to Amorphages that was entirely negative–not because the deck looked like it would be bad, but because it looked like it might end up seeing a lot of play.
The floodgate-focused playstyle of Amorphages was exactly the kind of thing players did not want to go up against in a tournament. Keep in mind that when Shining Victories launched we were still in a floodgate-heavy era with plenty of duelists maining or siding multiple different Continuous Traps to shut their opponents out of the game. Amorphages were poised to be another dose of the horrible, stale gameplay that had plagued the competitive scene for several previous formats.
Luckily, Amorphages totally failed to take off. That said, a few Amorphage cards found their way into Pendulum and Dragon strategies. Amorphage Sloth was an easy Side Deck pick for Pendulums that turned off your opponent's ability to summon from their Extra Deck, and Amorphage Goliath saw play in Thunder Dragon Link. I think Amorphage Lechery is one of the biggest untapped cards in this game, and there are already a few early Dragunity builds with OCG-only cards that leverage it to disable spell activations.
Noble Knights failed to see competitive success, but not for a lack of trying. The TCG dropped World Premiere Noble Knight cards at a snail's pace for years without ever succeeding in making the deck competitive.
There are a lot of Noble Knight cards, including some awesome cards that saw play outside of the theme. Isolde, Two Tales of the Noble Knights was once among the most threatening cards in the game because it enabled insane combos in Warrior decks like Goukis. Those days are mostly behind us now, though Infernobles recently rekindled some of the degeneracy that Goukis were capable of.
Speaking of Infernobles: you couldn't ask for a better theme to directly compare Noble Knights to. Infernobles did more in their somewhat short competitive history than Noble Knights have ever accomplished. Part of that is because Infernobles were, well, fairly degenerate. Smoke Grenade of the Thief and Linkross turned out to be better than anything in the Infernoble deck, but Infernobles reaped the benefits because they could abuse both cards effectively. Now that both of those cards are Forbidden there are far fewer people playing Infernobles, which is probably about right considering expectations for the deck without those cards weren't terribly high to begin with.
There are plenty of other decks that missed the mark on launch, including Elementsabers, Yang Zings, Magical Musketeers, and Dark Magicians. Some of those decks failed due to bad design, because they relied on mechanics that put them at an inherent disadvantage, while others just launched at the wrong time. Yang Zing might have been incredible had they been released just a year earlier, but they couldn't compete against Shaddolls in the post-Duelist Alliance format.
There's another category of decks that were heavily sided against upon release. As I mentioned, Dark World players saw a lot of sided tech come their way even at their very first YCS. Hype can drive players to pick up a new deck, but it can also draw a lot of unnecessary attention to a strategy that might not deserve it. Dark Worlds walked into YCS Columbus with a huge target painted on their back, and that's a big disadvantage for a new deck that's trying to make a good first impression.
The Yu-Gi-Oh community can fall victim to groupthink just like any other community. A false idea can become accepted truth when it gets repeated on social media enough times, and in general our community has a habit of bucketing cards and decks into 'good' and 'bad' categories.
That binary leaves out the nuance that's needed to accurately describe the successes and failures of this game's many strategies. You can still enjoy all the hot takes that the Internet has to offer, but just keep in mind that nobody really knows how a metagame will turn out until the dust has fully settled.
Until next time then