The Introduction of Block Format into Yu-Gi-Oh


Hey everybody! I hope you all enjoyed the holiday season and the month off of competitive Yu-Gi-Oh as much as I did! This weekend marks the kickoff of the 2015 season with the ARG Circuit Series Orlando. It is the only event after the recent Forbidden and Limited Limited List change, but before the new set is released.


A friend of mine made an interesting observation. He said that it seems like Konami has given us a block format, similar to that of Magic, but without actually telling us that. Having thought about it, there’s quite a bit of validity to his statement.


Previously, the ban list had been used to keep the game fresh and ensure that any given format wasn’t like its predecessor. They would often leave the top deck of a format unplayable in the next format. Tele-DAD and Plants are two examples of them doing this in the past.


September 2013, we saw the most radical banlist change in the game’s history. They banned over 20 cards at once, an absolutely unprecedented amount. Since then, every list has been very minor. Most of them did not actually change the format very much; they only fixed holes in the game like banning Return From the Different Dimension or Super Polymerization.


It makes sense for Konami to want to try and avoid outright killing the top deck of a format. Most people (me included) don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars to be able to play the deck for a relatively short amount of time before being expected to spend hundreds of dollars once again if they still wanted to compete at a top level. Taking this approach could result in fewer people finding the game worth it and their player base might begin to dwindle. The switch to three-month formats would magnify this effect, as people would be expected to buy a new deck twice as often if they wanted to remain competitive.


Konami’s solution to this appears to be very similar to the approach that Magic the Gathering takes in order to deal with this problem. Instead of letting a banlist, or set rotation in Magic’s case, define the format, they’ve begun to let new sets be the defining factor in formats.


They start out by giving us a base set. The base set for this “block” was Duelist Alliance. This introduced Shaddoll and Burning Abyss as the two leading archetypes for the entire block. It’s possible that they intended Satellarknights to be a third main archetype, but that it just wasn’t as powerful as the other two.


The ban list after the pack was first introduced didn’t change very much. Shaddoll was originally significantly more powerful than Burning Abyss, primarily due to Super Polymerization. Once they put this card to one, their power was roughly equal. If one was better than the other at this time, the difference wasn’t very obvious.


Despite the format technically being between ban lists, the format was more revolution by the release of the New Challengers. This is actually a big change from older Yu-Gi-Oh. Instead of Konami hitting the top decks, they actually gave them both more support in the next pack. They also introduced another main archetype; Qliphorts. I’ll come back to this shortly.


This has resulted in a defined three-deck format with Burning Abyss, Shaddoll, and Qliphorts as the top decks. The January banlist has been out for roughly two weeks now and once again we see a continuation of the developing trend of not hitting the top decks. They left Burning Abyss and Qliphorts completely untouched and only hit Super Polymerization in Shaddolls.


Next weekend, a third set is released; Secrets of Eternity. Again, all the top decks are getting support, immediately following all of them being relatively untouched by the banlist. This absolutely did not happen for older formats.


As I have said, this trend is similar to that of Magic the Gathering. They release a base set that introduces the dominant archetypes. They then build on the archetypes over the next couple of sets. I don’t keep up with releases in the distant future, so I don’t know much of anything about the set after Secrets of Eternity, but it seems likely that they will continue with this trend of building the core archetypes.


I suspect the trend will continue to follow Magic’s model. There they rotate out the sets and introduce a new base set. While Yu-Gi-Oh doesn’t do set rotation, it’s likely that they will try to yield the same effect with either the April or July banlist and outright kill most of the top decks. Then they will introduce a new base set in the weeks following that.


It’s hard to say whether or not this will happen on the April list or the July list and Qliphorts make it harder to guess. Two of the three core dominant strategies came out a full three months before the third, Qliphorts, was released.


If we look to Secrets of Eternity, they’re now introducing Nekroz. To me, this seems to suggest the beginning of a pattern.


Introduction of Burning Abyss and Shaddoll

Expansion of Burning Abyss and Shaddoll. Introduction of Qliphort.

Expansion of Burning Abyss and Shaddoll. Explansion of Qliphort. Introduction of Nekroz.


Here’s where we are right now. If I had to guess, it would stand to reason that the pattern would continue as:

Elimination of Burning Abyss and Shaddoll through ban list.

Expansion of Qliphort. Expansion of Nekroz. Introduction of a new archetype.

Elimination of Qliphort.

Expansion of Nekroz. Expansion of the new archetype. Introduction of a second new archetype.

Elimination of Nekroz.



The power curve plays an important role in this trend as well. There weren’t huge changes on the July ban list. Instead, the release of more powerful cards dictated the beginning of the format. It wasn’t that HAT and Gears got hit to unplayable, they were reduced in power. Then Shaddoll and Burning Abyss were released. After Gear’s reduction in power, Shaddoll and Burning Abyss were more powerful.


The power curve is something that has been occurring in Yu-Gi-Oh for years. It’s the reason we don’t use Smashing Ground to clear threats and Spirit Reaper as a power play anymore. Instead we end with double Dante. Cards get increasingly powerful over time, because they have to in order to maintain this type of format structure. It seems likely that this trend will continue to happen.


Instead of an outright banning of Burning Abyss and Shaddoll in April, we’ll probably seem some minor hits. Perhaps they’ll hit something like Tour Guide, but leave the rest of the deck untouched. Then they’ll continue to release cards that are more powerful. They will be powerful enough to make it so the minor reduction in power through a hit like Tour Guide will be enough to make whatever the new cards are better than the old Burning Abyss strategy.


Since Konami doesn’t want to outright kill a deck as it alienates anybody who was playing that deck, they’ll only do it in extreme situations. This type of pattern means that players will have to make an original investment into a base set. Now, instead of killing the deck outright with the banlist, they’ll build upon it in the next set. This encourages the players to build on their existing strategies, which sells more products on their end.


This means that they won’t have to buy a new deck outright (and lose the players who refuse to do this to remain competitive) and can just get the new cards. Since they’re only getting a fraction of the deck at a time, it’s likely at a cheaper cost to the player than if they had to buy a whole deck at once. This means that more people will be willing to spend the money once the next set comes out.


Then the power curve means that when it’s time to phase the new deck out (which they’re naturally going to want to do so that you continue to buy their cards), they don’t have to kill the deck and alienate the players who were playing it. The new cards will be better, but they could still play the older cards if they wanted.


A prime example of this is Mermails. It was the top deck in the January format last year. When the April list was released, they put Gunde to 1. It didn’t outright kill the deck and anyone who was playing Mermails could still play it if they chose to, but new cards like Soul Charge and Artifacts allowed other decks to be more powerful.


Mermails also demonstrate how the power curve exists in today’s game. This most recent list put Gunde back to 3, but I find it unlikely that they will return to their previous status as a top deck. Shaddolls, Burning Abyss, and Qliphorts are all better decks.


So what can you do with this information? There are actually a couple of different applications.


The first of which is investing. You can use this pattern to predict card prices. I find it likely that the April ban list will likely reduce the power of Burning Abyss and Shaddolls, much the way hitting Gunde to 1 reduced the power of Mermails, so that the game’s power curve can take over and newer strategies will be stronger.


Qliphorts will probably survive an additional list and Nekroz a list after that. This pattern can save you lots of money selling off things you might otherwise expect to be hit. You could even buy up cards from people rushing to get rid of cards because they didn’t see this pattern.


At any point the power curve could shift this balance. The people making the cards can’t always perfectly predict how they will affect the game. Sometimes they’ll release a card that has a stronger impact than they expected. Minor corrections to problem cards on the ban list and stronger core sets might result in a core set archetype being better than an archetype that had already been given an expansion.


You can also apply this pattern to how the format will develop. It stands to reason that Burning Abyss and Shaddoll will be at full strength after this set, but that Qliphorts will still have more support coming and Nekroz will have support coming for even longer. This means that it’s likely that anything that has received support for a longer period of time will be a better deck, but that each base set will be better than the last base set.


Personally I don’t plan a deck for an event, I plan for a whole format. Had I known that Shaddolls would not have been hit harder than they were in October, I might not have played a Shaddoll deck at full power at the events shortly before the list was released. I expected them to hurt the deck and thought I didn’t have a reason to save anything. When the list didn’t hurt the deck, I didn’t have an advantage saved for Dallas and didn’t top. Having identified this pattern, I can now factor this in and save some ideas for the upcoming format instead of assuming that the list will cripple the deck.


The institutions within a format are one of my favor aspects of Yu-Gi-Oh and I love identifying patterns like this. One could easily use these patterns to take advantage of the market and know how the format will progress. I hope to see you all this weekend at ARG Circuit Series Orlando. Until next time, play hard or go home!

Patrick Hoban

Patrick Hoban

Patrick Hoban

Latest posts by Patrick Hoban (see all)