Yu-Gi-Oh! is one of the OG anime series. It was my first exposure to anime, come to that. Those classic days of the original Yugi Moto saga defined my childhood. No evil I’ve seen in movies, TV shows, or video games matches Kaiba tearing up grandpa’s prized Blue-Eyes White Dragon. Damn you, Seto Kaiba, damn you and your gravellier-than-Solid-Snake-chewing-a-mouthful-of-gravel voice.
The thing that hooked me and a lot of my generation to the series was the monsters. At the heart of Yu-Gi-Oh! –whether we’re talking show or TCG—is a series of duels between huge, angry slathering beasts. A huge proportion of which are dragons, because they’re the most tough-as-nails fantasy trope in town. You don’t screw with dragons, do you? That’s what I thought.
Now, the trading card game itself can’t quite rival the holo-creatures of the show, but it tries super hard. Not only is this some of the darn prettiest and most terrifying card art you ever saw, but some of these things are WAY too strong.
As any trading card game player will tell you, ban-lists are dynamic things. A Yu-Gi-Oh! card may move from unlimited or limited to banned and then back again, as new strategies arise and others fall out of favor. The metagame is ever-changing. Some of the cards we’re taking a look at today aren’t banned anymore, but they all share one thing in common: They are/have been considered far too powerful. Hold on to your hindquarters and let’s check them out.
15 Witch Of The Black Forest
We’re kicking things off the right way here, with the most relatively feeble-looking card in the countdown. At first glance, Witch of the Black Forest looks about as threatening as a one-legged kitten in a coma. You’re not setting the world ablaze with that 1100 attack and 1200 defense, buddy boy. The fact is, though, there’s much more to the game than brute force.
The card has taken a nerf or two and is now unlimited (a full playset of three copies can be used in a deck), but it used to be banned for its super powerful effect. The Witch is a searcher ( a card which allows you to draw a certain other card from your deck) that targets a friendly monster’s defense rather than attack, which allows the player to draw from a much wider variety of targets. A lot of powerhouses have low defense, you see.
14 Pot Of Greed
TCGs, as I say, vary quite a bit in terms of gameplay mechanics and such. Nevertheless, there are certain aspects of the game that will always be key, whether you’re playing Magic The Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh!, or the Final Fantasy Trading Card Game. One of the most fundamental of these is draw power, the ability to keep as many cards as possible on hand when you need them.
Any ability that allows you to draw cards is going to be valuable, and there’s always some kind of cost or condition associated with doing so. Except, of course, in Pot of Greed’s case. This broken spell card guarantees you card advantage in any situation, allowing you to draw two cards with no drawbacks at all. Pot of Greed, you are indeed a greedy jerk, and you have no business here.
13 Monster Reborn
With Yu-Gi-Oh!’s focus on monster battles, it stands to reason that you’ll need somewhere to store all the mangled, blood-leaky, sobbing-on-the-kitchen-lino-in-the-fetal-position monster cards you’ve lost. This area is the aptly-named Graveyard.
As such, it also follows that reviving monster cards from the Graveyard is going to be key to play. Certain archetypes, like Zombies, can be hugely reliant on this tactic, swarming the field with ‘dead’ creatures and going in for the kill.
There are a variety of cards that let you return your cards from the Graveyard to your hand or to the field, and they’re also a valuable asset. Monster Reborn is a cut above, though, because you can use it to Special Summon a monster from your own Graveyard OR your opponent’s. This lets you disrupt or outright steal their strategy, too, which is just too good.
Here’s another unassuming little card. Look at the guy, what harm could it possibly do? A super cute little pink toad with wings? Nuts to banning it, I want to invite it into my home, adopt it and love it forever and ever.
Which is why you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, friends. Because sometimes, the book can actually be a real Grade A d-bag once you get to know it. Substitoad, I’m sorry to tell you, is one of those jerks for sure.
As with Witch of the Black Forest, it’s not so much what the card can do by itself that’s the problem. It’s what it can set up. This thing’s so easy to search for, and it paves the way for all manner of frog-related horrors.
11 Chaos Emperor Dragon- Envoy Of The End
Now that’s more freaking like it. See this guy’s name? Well, yep, that says it all. Does this sound like something to mess with? Does it sound like an innocent goodly do-gooder, who spends their days feeding the homeless soup kitchen? That’s because it isn’t. Hold on to your underpants, the Chaos Emperor Dragon is coming.
In and of itself, this thing’s a real powerhouse, but it isn’t broken per se. It allows you to pay a chunk of your life points to send all cards in both players’ hands (and in the field) to the graveyard, and burn them relative to the amount of cards that were destroyed.
The true reason for the ban, though, was the infamous Yata-Garatsu lockdown, which would leave your opponent completely helpless while you kept swinging. It was awful.
10 Magical Scientist
Oh, Magical Scientist. You are the king of dodgy exploit-y shenanigans.
Once again, this little guy doesn’t look like very much at all. Its attack and defense stats are non-existent. All it seems to have going for it is that purple hair and cool as heck green glasses combo (let’s be frank here, if you try and deny that this is the coolest looking nerd you ever saw, you’re lying).
Looking beyond straight-up stats, Magical Scientist’s effect can be quite neat and tricksy with Fusion Monsters. This isn’t too harmful in and of itself either, but the true use of the card lies in devious OTKs and cheap plays with Synchro Summons and Catapult Turtle. I’ve seen this happen with my own damn actual eyeballs, and it was not a good time.
9 Victory Dragon
Now that’s a name, right there. Who wins in a battle when Victory Dragon is involved? Victory Dragon does, that’s who. It’s the motherfreaking Dragon of Victory, not the Dragon of Being A Good Sporting Player And Allowing Your Opponent A Fair Match. That guy wouldn’t be much fun at parties, and you’d never fit its name on a trading card anyway.
With a name like that, you’d better expect this thing to be able to walk the walk as well. Its true strength lies in its effect, which automatically wins the player the entire match if Victory Dragon is the one to reduce the opponent’s life points to zero. Not just the round, mark you, but the entire best-of-three Match.
In a convenient technicality, the opposing player can forfeit the round as Victory Dragon attacks, but still. There’s an obvious reason why this thing is banned from tournament play.
8 Return From The Different Dimension
A lot of Yu-Gi-Oh! play centers around aggression and rushing. From the early days of the game to the present, we’ve seen an array of different archetypes based on this simple gameplan. Blackwings, Zombies, Fortune Ladies and many others usually have one main strategy in mind: swarm the field and keep up relentless attacks.
To support these sorts of decks, naturally, there are a range of spells, traps and monster effects that help players get their attackers out. Return From the Different Dimension is one of these, and while it’s more difficult to use, it’s completely devastating when played right.
The monsters you summon via its effect must have been removed from play, not simply sent to the graveyard. You can instantly fill your field with them, though, which is the terrifying part.
7 Tribe-Infecting Virus
Mass destruction cards are not an uncommon thing. We’ve got Heavy Storm, which wipes out every Spell and Trap card on both players’ sides of the field. We’ve got the fearsome Mirror Force, a mind game in itself which destroys all attack position monsters the opponent controls, Lighting Vortex… there are all kinds of examples.
Tribe-Infecting Virus is a curious one, though. Yu-Gi-Oh! players often like to build decks based around certain archetypes (some of which are better supported and more effective than others, of course). Whether because we like a particular theme or because it’s just plain strong, lots of duelists go down this route. Tribe-Infecting Virus allows the opponent to instantly shut down these types of decks, destroying all face-up monsters of a particular type. It has a super low cost to activate, too. Leave my damn tribe alone, you. I like my tribe.
6 Giant Trunade
We’ve already spoken about mass destruction cards, but what of mass not-quite-destruction-but-might-as-damn-well-be cards? It’s not such a well-known card type, granted, as there’s only one of them: Giant Trunade.
The offending Trap card works in a similar fashion to Heavy Storm, but it’s a little more subtle. Instead of destroying every Spell and Trap on the field outright, it returns them all to their owners’ hand. This makes it much less situational for the user, as they can simply reset everything they had laid down. Meanwhile, the other player is left with no defensive back line until their turn.
Giant Trunade is so powerful because there’s very little downside to using it, and no real price either. For this reason, it’s forbidden under standard tournament rules.
5 Card Of Safe Return
As we’ve touched on previously, draw power is a huge, huge deal in any deck. That’s true of any trading card game, and success in Yu-Gi-Oh! lives and dies by it too. While building your deck, this is always something to bear in mind, because you always need support in that regard.
Certain cards built with that idea in mind are a little too effective, though. We’ve already seen Pot of Greed, and its complete lack of downsides. Card of Safe Return is another that makes for an incredibly powerful draw engine. With this card, you can draw one whenever you Special Summon from the Graveyard. For archetypes like Zombies and Lightsworns, this sort of madness was far too effective to be allowed. Stop with that crazy talk.
4 Elemental Hero Stratos
The Elemental Heroes are a long-running Yu-Gi-Oh! archetype, embodying the series (and those Saturday morning superhero cartoons I adored as a child). Through their long history with the series, they’ve seen some great card releases and some pretty darn craptacular ones. No Elemental Hero has proven as controversial as Stratos, however.
This isn’t a ten-star double tribute beast, but rather a four-star beatstick. 1800 is already quite good power for that range, but it also comes with a choice of two different broken abilities. On being Normal or Special Summoned, Stratos lets you either search another Hero monster or destroy Spells or Traps (up to the number of Hero cards you control). Needless to say, the community has some pretty darn harsh words when this thing was released.
3 The Tyrant Neptune
Let’s not kid ourselves here, this thing looks incredible. It’s like the freakish lovechild of Godzilla and the Grim Reaper. If looking terrifying on the card art alone was grounds for a ban, then consider this guy gone. It’s not though, so let’s dig a little deeper.
Taken at face value, The Tyrant Neptune is nothing. Literally. With mighty twin zeroes in attack and defense, its effect is going to have to be something pretty darn special.
This card can only be tribute summoned by tributing a monster of your choice. On hitting the field, it will gain the stats, effects, and name of the monster that was sacrificed for it. If you tribute Lyrical Luscinia Independent Nightingale for it, you’ll wind up with a 6000 attack monster that deals 5000 burn damage per turn and is immune to card effects. BRB, I’m off to change my underwear.
2 Sixth Sense
Well, this is a beast of a spell right here. At first, it may not look like all that much. After all, there are lots of coin flip and dice roll chance-based cards in the game. The Arcana Force archetype, for instance, is based around this idea. True enough, Sixth Sense has quite the downside in some decks. After all, you could discard that crucial card you needed to win.
Don’t go thinking that this makes it okay, though. In decks like Lightsworn and Zombies, which just love having monsters ready and waiting in the Graveyard, the true potential of this Trap shines through. It’s kind of a win button in those cases, as milling and drawing can both provide a huge advantage. Personally, I haven’t been a fan of Sixth Sense since Bruce Willis tried to help that kid who saw dead people.
1 Obelisk The Tormentor
And so we arrive at the ultimate. The best and baddest. The one and only. Call me, call me by my name, oh, call me by my number. Nope, not Chesney Hawke. We’re talking even more powerful. We’ve got Obelisk the Freakin’ Tormentor right here.
Along with Slifer the Sky Dragon and the Winged Dragon of Ra, Obelisk is one of the fabled Egyptian God cards. In the show, these are nothing less than super strong miracles in cardboard form, and it only makes sense that they’re not something for kids to play silly games with. Except they are, but you see where I’m going with this.
The original versions of the god cards are forbidden to use, and all feature hilariously melodramatic flavour text. The descent of this mighty creature shall be heralded by burning winds and twisted land! Well, that’s just swell.