Friendship > Card Games
Friendship > Card Games

Sometimes you don’t need to have the weight of the entire world on your shoulders to have an epic duel. In fact, fighting for a global cause is hardly a requirement for really intense dueling.

Intense dueling comes from the heart. It’s a battleground to work out family problems and personal issues or to face your personal demons. Dueling takes those tricky, abstract conflicts and fleshes them out into physical monsters.

What distinguishes the following duels as the top five is the deeply personal nature of these duels. Duels can be fun and generally are but they can also be very psychologically scarring. The downside to epic season finale duels is that you tend to already “know” who’s going to win. With mid-season duels that take place in the thick of things, the outcome of these duels are markedly unpredictable. Sometimes, the good guys don’t always win, or if they win, the victory leaves a bitter aftertaste in the mouth.

Yes, even card games can make you cry.

Warning: long post with many self-indulgent screenshots ahead. And card games. Prepare yourself!

5. Kaiba-Yugi vs Noah – Virtual World Arc

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Tag-team duels are nothing new in Yu-Gi-Oh! but I do believe this is the first time in the franchise where a second takes over the duel.

Seto Kaiba is such an interesting character. He’s the kind of guy you would hate in real life–arrogant, contemptuous, and full of self-entitlement. But he’s a guy with a lot of emotional baggage and behind the aloof millionaire facade is a pretty sensitive man. He’s prideful but that’s partly because he’s accomplished so much in so little a time. From humble beginnings in the orphanage to speeding his way up the corporate ladder, he’s sacrificed a lot to get the business empire he stands on top of.

Yes, even Seto Kaiba has a soul.
Yes, even Seto Kaiba has a soul.
Noah being a big douche. Brainwashing kids to love you is a great way of validating your inferiority complex.
Noah being a big douche. Brainwashing kids to love you is a great way of validating your inferiority complex.

Noah might be a victim of circumstance (you have to feel at least a little bit sorry for him when you hear how Gozaburo abandoned him when he pretty much died) but that certainly doesn’t justify his actions. If duel decks are the reflection of their wielders’ souls, the decks say a lot about their duelists.

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Kaiba’s key cards, I’ve noticed, especially in this duel, tend to lean towards LIGHT-attribute monsters, like Kaiser Seahorse, Different Dimension Dragon, and of course, Blue Eyes White Dragon. They’re fierce and prideful creatures but are also incredibly resilient. No sneaky roundabouts-just pure, unadulterated power. Kind of like Kaiba. I actually thought that Different Dimension Dragon represented the younger Seto Kaiba: despite having a sub-standard ATK and DEF, it’s as tough as nails and hard to get rid of, thanks to its special ability to protect itself from spell and trap cards targeting it.

Kaiba’s deck aside (clearly built on strength and beauty), Noah’s deck also warrants some explanation as it represents a perfect foil to Kaiba’s deck, which is built around the theme of light, and the “light of the future” that Kaiba vows to grasp (Japanese version Kaiba, as you’ll find, is considerably more eloquent than the 4Kids Kaiba).

If Kaiba’s deck looks to the future, Noah’s deck is hopelessly stuck in the stasis of the past. Featuring classical and ancient figures like Chiron the Mage, Giant Rex, and Shinato’s Ark (I suppose calling it Noah’s Ark would be just way too obvious), Noah’s cards pay homage to the past, mirroring his fixation on his own traumatic childhood. Shinato’s Ark, unlike Kaiba’s LIGHT monsters, is literally a stronghold of surprises and Noah’s strategy of using the card to gain LP appropriately reflects his desire to truly live (as opposed to being stuck in the deathly stillness of cyberspace).

"So you conned Kaiba into  losing a duel. Big deal. How about you and me throw down and I kick your butt at a children's card game while you hold an overwhelming advantage, just to prove a point?"
“So you conned Kaiba into losing a duel. Big deal. How about you and me throw down and I kick your butt at a children’s card game while you hold an overwhelming advantage, just to prove a point?”

At least in the English dub, there’s a heavy emphasis on Yami Yugi insisting that Noah is “cheating.” Which is a really interesting accusation considering that Noah didn’t actually “cheat” in the game. His conduct beyond the card game, of course, was beyond deplorable but Yami Yugi places great faith in Kaiba’s dueling by implying that Noah’s possession of Mokuba as hostage significantly crippled his chances for victory. The duel for possession of KaibaCorp becomes not just a contest based on the outcome of a children’s card game but also as a contest of moral integrity and worth. Kaiba, despite losing the duel, comes out on top because he 1)despite terrible odds, conducted himself honorably; 2) chose the safety of his brother over a certain victory.

Gasp! Guess it’s not just about winning card games.

But actually, thanks to Noah’s power tripping, Yami Yugi takes it upon himself to finish Kaiba’s duel, to shove it in Noah’s face that Noah is inferior to Kaiba in all ways, including Duel Monsters. It’s an epic brawl, mostly one-sided as Noah’s spirit monsters (again, very representative of him considering their transient, physical existences) make mincemeat out of Yami Yugi (with a 9900 LP difference, that’s hardly surprising).

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One inspired hallucination later, Yami Yugi pulls off the most perfect combo, proving once and for all, that friendship is the true victor and that card games are the ultimate test for determining one’s self-worth. (All is right with the YGO universe.)

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WTF move: That Card of Sanctity and how it gave Yami Yugi EXACTLY what he needed to pull off that 6-card STATISTICALLY IMPOSSIBLE COMBO.

4. Yugi vs Yami Yugi – Waking the Dragons Arc

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Not all duels need four episodes to be intense. Yugi and Yami Yugi duking it out in a desolate spirit circle (in the canyons of America, because America is somehow exotic). Short and simple is sometimes all you need.

Short with a dash of brutality.

I really like this duel because unlike some “filler duels,” it’s a duel crafted with narrative poise and intent. The actual duel itself isn’t anything complicated–in fact, it’s a replay, an echo of the duel Yami Yugi played earlier in the season. Instead of being bored though, the repetition of the moves send chills down our (and Yami Yugi’s) spines.

A look that makes puppies cry.
A look that makes puppies cry.

Probably because it’s really disconcerting to see innocent Yugi playing so cruelly.

From a technical standpoint, the duel they have is not at all elegant or sophisticated. Yugi, pantomiming Yami Yugi mercilessly goads his Orichalcos-boosted monsters to attack. Yami Yugi can only defend, feeble attempts to avoid confrontation. It’s such a painful thing to watch.

The original dialogue exchanged between the two during this duel varies considerably (as par the course for 4kids dubs). In the 4Kids English dub, the focus of the conversation was on Yami Yugi’s fear of the evil inside of him and his fear to discover that he might not have been an honorable and righteous pharaoh as he was led to believe.

I don’t really like how they’ve dumbed it down to Yami Yugi being “evil.” Evil is so commonly used that it’s become a watered-down, almost meaningless word that vaguely destroys immoral acts.

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In the Japanese version, the conversation is a little more complex. Yugi accuses Yami Yugi of not necessarily being “evil” but of an arrogance that only the heroic and strong are prone to. He acknowledges Yami Yugi’s dueling skills but that Yami Yugi’s strength actually clouds his ability to empathize with the plight of others.
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Card games have never caused so much pain...
Card games have never caused so much pain…

Pride goeth before a fall and Yami Yugi’s realized how far he’s fallen. Having become far too accustomed to the sweet nectar of victory, Yami Yugi feels lost and powerless. Miserable and believing himself alone, he doesn’t put up of much of a fight. In a way,  suffering at the hands of Yugi is a small atonement for his self-centered actions.

WTF move: Yugi playing The Seal of Orichalcos which is pretty much a slap in the face for Yami Yugi, who’s still facing the scars from having played that card against Raphael.

Yami Yugi angsting
Yami Yugi angsting
Yami Yugi activates "Divine Wind."
Yami Yugi activates “Divine Wind.”

But Yugi’s challenge is not a punishment but a test. The Seal of Orichalcos is not the true mirror of Yami Yugi’s soul–Yugi is. By showing aggression, Yami Yugi gets to place himself in his partner’s shoes–to look at himself truly. Only by realizing and empathizing with Yugi can Yami Yugi master the pain he’s inflicted (on himself and on others) and transform that pain into a strength built not on victory but on the resilience of one who has tasted defeat and is not afraid of it. See how much card games can teach a person?

Puzzleshipping was always canon, folks.
Puzzleshipping was always canon, folks.

3. Yugi vs Raphael (1) – Waking the Dragons Arc

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Speaking of Raphael…

I was tempted to choose their second confrontation, the one where Yami Yugi faces off for his rematch, but this duel ended up edging out over the rematch mainly because of two reasons:

1) It was very clear what the outcome would be for the rematch duel, so minus points for the suspense factor.
2) Raphael duels WAY better in this first duel. (Seriously, the Seal of Orichalcos must have taken whatever was left of his brain in the rematch duel because that was some seriously bad dueling on his part). What person in the right mind would ditch OP Guardian Eatos for Dreadscythe?

"Don't play that card- it's evil!"
“Don’t play that card- it’s evil!”
"Screw morality--I'm playing this card anyway!"
“Screw morality–I’m playing this card anyway!”

WTF move: Yami Yugi playing The Seal of Orichalcos. Logically, playing it wasn’t even necessary. The duel didn’t even have any stakes. As long as Yami Yugi refrained from playing it, then the duel would have ended in an inconsequential loss.

For King of Games, the guy’s mighty scared of losing.

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It’s always interesting to meet a villain that duels smart. It’s even more interesting to meet a villain that not only duels smart but treats his cards so well that he’ll do anything to keep them out of the Card Graveyard. Unlike Alister who’s got some anger management issues to work out, Raphael’s a fairly down-to-earth and very logical guy. Albeit a bit disillusioned and dissatisfied with the world, but it’s a bit of a stretch to call him a “madman.”

But then again, empathy with villains has never been Yami Yugi’s strongest point. And it’s something that forms the central core of conflict in this season–the capacity to not merely fear darkness but to understand and ultimately subdue it when it throws the world out of balance.

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There’s more to playing card games than just strategy and use of the cards. The show’s been gradually hinting that the monsters on the cards aren’t fictional beings–they’re real creatures with souls. As such, it’s pretty irksome when your owner has so little faith in himself or his cards that he’s willing to rely on a foreign, clearly malignant force to assure him victory. Which is why I’m convinced that the reason why Yami Yugi lost is not because he was throwing monsters down to tribute them for Catapult Turtle‘s effect, but because of the manner in which he did so.

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To keep the series’ moral framework from imploding on itself, anyone, even the main character, who betrays the Heart of the Cards, cannot win. This duel was possibly the most painful lesson that Yami Yugi ends up learning in the entire series and for that, it deserves the recognition of being the third best duel in Yu-Gi-Oh! history.

2. Yugi vs Joey (2) – Battle City Arc

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Nothing says passive-aggressive intimacy like chaining you and your best friend to an anchor above the ocean.

A duel between friends would have been a pleasure to watch under any circumstances. Unlike the previous match in Duelist Kingdom, there is no honor in victory, only despair.

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Just the recipe for one of the most infamous duels in YGO history (this statement, by the way, is confirmed in YGO GX, where the Duel Academy students actually get a TOUR of the famous Battle City sites).

It’s actually pretty hilarious the lengths 4Kids went to tone down the inherent danger of the duel’s set-up. From removing the explosives attached to the crate hanging above Tea’s head to (unsuccessfully) downplaying the intended outcome of the duel (death by drowning), it’s the closest 4Kids will get to actually admitting that death is a very real possibility in a universe where the worst punishment so far has been a trip to the “Shadow Realm.”

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This duel is fascinating to watch because the duelists who start the duel are ultimately not the ones who finish it. You have Marik manipulating Joey (pretty much all him) in the first half. Though Yami Yugi and Yugi are cooperatively dueling, Yami Yugi starts off the duel, only to relinquish control when Yugi insists on dueling Joey himself.

Little Yugi steps up to take on his best friend...
Little Yugi steps up to take on his best friend…
And Marik's none too pleased...
And Marik’s none too pleased…

I love how thrown off Marik is when Yugi takes over. He’s so surprised and disappointed-he wants to defeat the Pharaoh himself, not his mortal tagalong. Though he seems to have forgotten that Yugi is just as capable of a duelist as his darker counterpart.

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WTF move: When Yugi plays Exchange, allowing Joey to see the Red Eyes Black Dragon he has in his hand.

It’s such a gutsy move, and one that I wager that even Yami Yugi wouldn’t have dared play given their circumstances. The Red Eyes packs a wallop of Symbolic Power and just the perfect thing to shake Joey back to his senses.

Strong and rare cards with powerful effects aren’t everything. The addition of high-powered magic cards like Raigeki, Hinotama, and Meteor of Destruction (all illegal by Battle City standards given their direct devastation on the opponent) fits well with the style of Marik’s attack style- swift, thorough and brutal (and illegal). It’s not too much of a stretch to see how the heavy reliance of magic cards points to Marik’s equally judicious use of his Millennium Rod to enchant and subjugate the wills of others.

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Another theme besides the bonds of friendship prevails in this duel (and in the season)-the concept of ownership. You have duelists running around to collect cards and claim ownership over them, but an important concept often taken for granted is the ownership over the duel, and by extension, destiny itself. Yugi calls the refusal of Marik to reveal himself “cowardice,” which is really another way of calling out Marik’s reluctance to take ownership of the duel without a proxy. He wants to reap the benefits but spare himself the humiliation of facing defeat himself.

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Another theme that this duel introduces is the idea of Yugi gaining independence to stand up for his friends by himself, without the spirit’s interference. Their conversation during the duel is an interesting one and you can really see how Yami Yugi pressures Yugi into letting him take over to protect Yugi from the danger but how Yugi, to the spirit’s surprise, pushes back and asserts himself so well that the spirit has no choice but to respect Yugi’s wishes.

But there’s more than one way to be defeated, just as there’s more than one way to win a duel. Yugi’s moves are so efficiently, emotionally motivated–every card he plays is armed with the intent of reminding Joey of their bond. Mystical Refpanel (Spirit’s Mirror) is literally a giant mirror, which is just a big GIMME SYMBOL in literature and media.

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And Yugi confesses his undying love to Joey before he dies.
And Yugi confesses his undying love to Joey before he dies.

Just a short list on what Mystical Refpanel really means:
1) As a mirror, it can both reflect and distort light, allowing you to both see yourself truly and untruly. The distortion (swirly colors and whatnot) reflects the Joey’s distorted self under mind control.
2) Mystical Refpanel is a Trap Card, and can negate the effects of an opponent’s Spell. Again, the negation of the spell stands for not just Meteor of Destruction, but also the lifting of Marik’s spell.
3) Mirrors reflect and can be manipulated in different directions, depending on what the beholder’s desires. Yugi chooses to reflect the attack back on himself (purely symbolic because he’s still taking Meteor Destruction’s damage) but the decision shows Yugi’s resolve to take charge of his own destiny and divert the message that Marik was trying to send–that friendship can be broken.

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All’s well that ends well. Joey figures out that a tie fulfills the conditions for both boxes to unlock. I would go on about how water’s another GIMME SYMBOL, and pairs well with the mirror symbolism as they’re both reflective substances, but I’ve prattled enough about this duel.

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The duel concludes with some serious foreshadowing...
The duel concludes with some serious foreshadowing…

1. Yugi vs Atem – Dawn of the Duel Arc

Fact. This duel never fails to make me cry.

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You’ll notice that it’s the only duel I’ve given a perfect score. And in many ways, I do find it an example of the perfect duel. Though it’s certainly not the most sophisticated duel ever (GX and 5Ds go on to advance the gameplay, in mostly positive ways), it’s the most evenly matched and paced duel in the anime.

It’s not just a duel, it’s a duel. The Ceremonial Duel, aptly named, is a rite of passage.  Though the 4kids dub reworked the dialogue a bit, it was pleasant to see that the overall message was kept. Atem’s spirit which has led a life of battle for so long has a chance to finally find rest, but he’ll need someone to show him that his battle days are over by facing defeat.

Both decks were clearly built with great care and reflect the personalities of the two. This is not a duel between two halves–but a duel between two twin souls.

One thing I’ve noticed about the English and Japanese versions is the slight (but marked) difference of address for Yugi and Atem. Prior to reclaiming his memories, Atem was referred to as “The Other Yugi” (Mou hitori no Yugi) or “The Other Me” (Mou hitori no boku). Obviously, this doesn’t translate well literally into English, so 4Kids experimented with “Yami” (a name unceremoniously dropped early Battle City) before settling on “Pharaoh.” Following suit, everyone, including Yugi, began to refer to Atem as the Pharaoh.

Such a formal title of address further emphasizes that Atem is not the other Yugi but rather a person in his own right. There’s never any doubt that Atem and Yugi are two different people in the English dub.

In the Japanese version, the “Other me” naming business blurs this divide somewhat. It’s an address that suggests a deeper intimacy, that while Yugi acknowledges Atem as a separate person, Atem is close enough to his heart that he IS part of him.

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Naming schemes aside, the duel itself is fantastic. It’s rare to see all three Egyptian God cards out in action (last time was Battle City Finals). Looking back, summoning all three is unwieldy and time-consuming but pulled off with startling grace. While most of the cards Atem uses are familiar and used many times before, there’s no doubt they’re effective.

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If Atem’s deck is stacked with familiar cards, a tribute to the past, Yugi’s deck resembles the potential of the future. His cards are decidedly modern–whimsical creatures that appear more appropriate in a child’s playroom than in battle.

But while Yugi’s monsters may be endearingly juvenile in appearance, they’re hardly toys. Not unlike a certain tri-colored spiky haired youth, monsters like Marshmellon, Silent Swordsman, and Gadget Brothers are more than they appear. The fact that Yugi’s cards often rely on each other for support and/or get stronger with each passing turn points to the philosophy of Yugi’s growth throughout the series. Yugi’s grown stronger with his friends and though he’s not as flashy about it, Yugi can think just like Atem, allowing him to read deeply into the game.

The writers spare no expense in pulling all of the strings of nostalgia in spite of the new cards. Besides Battle City favorites like the Magnet Warrior Trio (Alpha, Beta, and Gamma), you also see cards like Summoned Skull and Curse of Dragon–which haven’t seen much play since Duelist Kingdom. And of course, what would a duel be without Dark Magician?

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Dark Magician using Thousand Knives

I could talk all day about each and every card played, but in the interest of time, I want to limit my card discussion to one card in particular- Slifer the Sky Dragon (in the Japanese version, Osiris no Tenkuuryuu, often translated as either St. Dragon of Osiris or Osiris the Sky Dragon. I like the second translation better because it doesn’t quite mix religions as much and is a closer translation).

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It’s not terribly difficult to piece out that there’s a close relationship between Slifer and Atem. Besides being the first Egyptian God he wins in Battle City, the original name suggests another parallel. For those who may be a little rusty in Egyptian mythology, Osiris is the Egyptian God of the afterlife, the underworld and the dead. Before he became a god, Osiris was a king but was killed by his brother Set, who wanted the throne (nice guy, huh). His wife and sister, Isis, gathered the pieces and lo and behold, Osiris was brought back to life.

Luckily in Atem’s case, his cousin, Seto, actually turned out to be a pretty okay, non-usurping guy, but regardless, the connection of resurrection still holds (I could also get into a tangent on Atem’s Jesus-like tendencies–at one point, he’s shown walking on water–but let’s not go there).

Though never explicitly mentioned, Slifer the Sky Dragon is Atem’s key card. Note that Yugi’s grand strategy to defeat all three Egyptian Gods in one turn (Magnet Force is such a broken card) relies on Slifer the Sky Dragon‘s weakness–its second mouth attack triggered by new summons (a weakness, ironically, previously exploited by Atem during Battle City). A subtle way of showing everyone that immensity of strength isn’t everything and redirecting that strength is an effective means of catching a stronger opponent off guard.

Atem revives Slifer (Osiris) using Monster Reborn (Resurrection of the Dead).
Atem revives Slifer (Osiris) using Monster Reborn (Resurrection of the Dead).

I find it interesting that out of all of the Egyptian God cards, Atem chooses to resurrect Slifer. Practically speaking, it’s the weakest one of the three Egyptian Gods. Summoning Ra is pretty much out of question, considering its special ability requires Life Points that Atem doesn’t have but Obelisk would have been another option, since its default ATK is also 4000.

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Of course Atem’s choice of Egyptian God ultimately doesn’t matter, thanks to Yugi’s Golden Sarcophagus, which seals off Atem’s Monster Reborn. It’s a crushing move but so very thematically perfect. And just in case the audience couldn’t catch the metaphorical message of that play, Ishizu explains the message of Yugi cutting off Slifer’s revival:

The dead don’t belong in this world.

Oof. How hard is it to tell someone so close to you, the other half of your soul, that he doesn’t belong here anymore? You can see how difficult it is for Yugi, once Slifer is gone, to call out his last attack. He falters, adrenaline rush gone, at the terribly empty space between his Silent Magician and Atem. But Atem, taking a leaf from his partner’s–his aibou–book gently calls out to him to complete his turn.

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The feels. THE FEELS. I won’t admit that I cried like Yugi when he realized that Atem’s time on Earth was done, or that some significant part of me cheered when Tea tried again to get Atem to stay. But Joey Wheeler unexpectedly saves things from a full on sob-fest with some well put words of wisdom:

I guess there are some things we’re not supposed to understand. Just look at me: I go through half my life not understanding what’s going on. But I know that true friends may be hard to leave, but they’re impossible to forget. And even though his stay wasn’t as long as we would have liked, we’re lucky we knew him at all…Hey Pharaoh, I hate to break the terrible news to ya but you’re not going anywhere, ’cause everything you’ve given us stays right here in our hearts!

Cheesy, but it works and everyone finds solace in Joey’s words. I’d like to think that Atem’s realized that though he’s leaving for a different place, his friends are always with him.

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Thus concludes AM’s Top Ten Yu-Gi-Oh! Duels of All-Time. The duels never quite follow the legal rulings–and in some cases–they just completely screw over any few rules left in the first place–but you can’t deny these duels were fun to watch. And maybe you learned a little something about humanity in the process too.

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Here’s to children’s card games!

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42 thoughts on “Top Ten Yu-Gi-Oh! Duels of All Time (A Perfectly Scientific Analysis) Part II

    1. To each their own- there are lots of good duels in YGO so it was hard narrowing them down to just ten.
      Duel BCF3 (Battle City Finals-Yugi vs Kaiba) ranked fairly well but it did have a couple of factors that pulled its score down- it scored poorly in the “suspense” and “pacing” categories- it’s pretty obvious that Yugi was going to win and the pacing was pretty horrendous (approximately 40-50% flashback or Yugi’s friends panicking in the blimp while Joey/Jounouchi was stuck in a card-game-induced coma). It is a pretty awesome duel though!
      As for Joey vs Valon’s duel–it’s not a bad duel, but not one that I rewatch frequently. I’m not a big fan of Valon’s Armor deck and compared to some of the other duels in the season, this one seems to fall a little flat in terms of tactics. Kind of interesting to see the two punch each other in mini-Gundam suits, though.

      A Top-10 list is in the works for GX. I’d have to go back and rewatch some of the duels though-unlike with the original season, I don’t rewatch GX duels as frequently.

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  1. Great list! I haven’t seen the whole series yet but im close. Just finished the second Kaiba vs Allister duel so im right in the middle of the Orichalcos arc. Id have to say my favorite duels so far are Yugi/Strings, Yugi/Joey (BC), Yugi/Bakura (BC), Joey/Marik and Yugi/Raphael. My favorite arc so far is defiantly Battle city but Waking the Dragons is also really good. Hopefully season 5 is good too. Whats your favorite arc?

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    1. Thanks! Welcome to Anime Monographia! Filler arcs tend to have a pretty bad rep (and with good reason!) but the Orichalcos arc is an example of a filler arc done right. Lots of character development and more epic dueling. All the duels you’ve mentioned are excellent ones.

      Ooh, that’s a tough one…every season has its strengths. Since you’re not quite done with the series yet, I won’t mention anything specific. I think the last arc (you’ll know what I mean when you get there) has the best storytelling (incidentally, it also has the fewest number of duels). I have a soft spot for Battle City since it’s the point where the dueling actually gets good, but I also agree Waking the Dragons is also quite good. If I had to rank the arcs, it would look something like this: Battle City = Dawn of the Duel > Waking the Dragons > Battle City Finals/Virtual World > Duelist Kingdom > KC Grand Prix.

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      1. Thanks for the welcome! I knew Waking the Dragons was filler before I started watching it so I was weary of it but I agree with how you said it has great character development and dueling. The only thing I’m not crazy about this season is how Mai is portrayed as cold and evil when Duelist Kingdom already progressed her character passed that.

        Thanks for ranking your favorite seasons too. That helps me alot since our rankings (so far) are almost identical although I would put DK above the VW arc. Ill keep a lookout for Dawn of the Duel and KC grand prix.

        Also I know you’re making a GX list; any idea when that is going to be finished? I remember watching a bit of GX when I was a kid and loving it so I’m most likely going to watch that show too and maybe 5Ds.

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      2. Waking the Dragons is arguably the darkest arc in the series…and YGO doesn’t handle large doses of angst well. I get what you mean about being weary of it. Although it features some of the best duels in the franchise, it also has a ton of filler and just bad dueling. Mai’s characterization is one of the more frustrating things about the YGO series and really one of the main criticisms that even a diehard YGO fan like myself can’t help but voice. Actually, the YGO franchise’s treatment of female characters hasn’t had a very good track record either…something for another post.

        Nice to hear that our tastes align. I get some flak for not liking Duelist Kingdom as much as some of the other arcs. Some of my favorite episodes are in that season but I’m of the opinion that in general, each season gets a little better. Curious to think of how the later arcs will fit into your rankings for the show.

        Aah, that GX list. I’ve been getting a lot of requests for that. I honestly didn’t think much about creating a list for the spinoffs until someone suggested it. As much as I would love to bust out another Top 10 list this week, I have a lot of projects that need attending to. The curse of having many ideas and no time to write them all. I have two more posts scheduled for release sometime before the end of this month but after that, I’ll see if I can get to that GX list sometime this fall.

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    2. Alright sounds good. Ill post back when I finish the series which I should do in about a month

      Also it doesn’t surprise me at all that DK is near the bottom of your list. Sure it began our characters and showed some of their dueling skills but the dueling had alot of major problems this season since no clear rules were even made yet lol. I would put it as my least favorite arc but I just did not enjoy the VW arc even though Kaiba is my favorite character and he is basically the main character in that storyline.

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  2. The manga actually gave Atem a logical reason to use Slifer:

    For one, Atem didn’t use Ra in the manga version. He only used Obelisk, and unknown to those watching, he discarded Slifer to summon Tricky.

    In the Manga version, Yugi’s last monster has 4500 ATK, while Atem has 6 cards. So while Obelisk can’t block Yugi’s attack (monster reborn can be activated on the opponent’s turn in the manga), Slifer, which they didn’t even know he was using, can.

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    1. Wow, that actually makes a lot of sense. I’ve only read parts of the manga (the earlier pre-Duelist Kingdom parts) so I didn’t know that the Ceremonial Duel was different in the manga. Kind of interesting that Atem never used Ra in the manga.

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      1. Agree with what Amin said, in the manga (Battle City rules) all Spell Cards treated as Quick Play. Now, Atem’s original plan is keep his hand at 6 to make surprise counter attack with with Monster Reborn (already set on the field) to revive Slifer/Osiris during Yugi’s Battle Phase and since Silent Magician’s attack cannot be cancelled, this would make instant loss for Yugi (Silent Magician 4500 vs Osiris 6000).

        This make more sense since it all happened during Yugi’s turn, so when Gold Sarcophagus sealing Monster Reborn symbolic thing happened, it was pretty much CHECKMATE for Atem since he doesn’t have anything left on the field.

        However it cannot be executed well in anime since it use the real life rules.

        – Atem activate Monster Reborn from his hand during Main Phase 2, what’s the point? since he cannot attack anymore and Osiris will vanish anyway when the turn end.

        – Why he end his turn without set anything on field while he has 4 cards on his hand? why giving up? unlike in the manga, he still can do something to continue the duel, it’s like he surrender on purpose.

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      2. Now that’s interesting to hear! I only read the first few volumes of the manga (which covers pre-canon stuff prior to the anime) so I’m definitely missing out on this.

        Regardless of whether or not Atem had cards in his hand, Yugi sealing Slifer was an especially crushing move. Atem was definitely counting on Slifer’s resurrection to clinch the duel for him and the fact that Yugi was able to read so far ahead and anticipate his strategy revealed that Yugi truly surpasses him as a duelist. I don’t recall what cards Atem had in his hand but I don’t imagine that they would have been terribly helpful considering that he was drawing cards that fit best with his strategy (remember that Ishizu commented that Atem has the uncanny ability to draw exactly what he wants) and did not consider that Yugi would be able to read him so well.

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      3. Yeah We’ll never know what is the remaining cards in Atem’s hand, but even so it betray the duelist “moral” to not to give up until the end especially Atem status as the king of duelist.

        Also, you think that all his friends including Kaiba would accept he giving up just like that? even Yugi SHOULD be protest that his other self didn’t fight until the end during their sacred duel.

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      1. Better how? A better character? Better duelist? If better duelist, it’s pretty clear to see how many times Yami Yugi’s tromped Kaiba. If you’re asking which character I prefer more, well, that’s a bit tougher. They’re both very similar and interesting characters and actually share similar flaws, including arrogance. Yami Yugi edges out Kaiba a little in coolness and exercises a bit more humility than Kaiba, which makes him more likable.

        Kaiba is still pretty awesome though. The guy knows what he wants and will do pretty much anything (and most of the time succeed) to get it.

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  3. Hello there. I found it by random, searching Kaiba’s famous and so funny reply when Tristan asked him: “Why duel yourself?” coming with the retort: “Who better?” Gotta say, pretty nice work overall. Though, I have some sort of “complaints”.

    Like another person before me said, why not include Yugi vs Kaiba Battle City semi-final? It is arguably the best, most intense duel between them and one of the best duels in the original Duel Monsters series in my humble opinion. Because, Yugi and Kaiba are pretty much #1 and #2 respectively. They both do their best to protect their Egyptian God card and destroy the enemy’s. When the former fails for both but both succeed in the latter, they both keep going on, at their limits. Having dueled vs each other many times or watch them duel- Kaiba himself stating that he watched Yugi’s duels extensively to learn and counter his strategy (using his technology and power as host of the tournament; kinda cheap trick) and memorizing every card in his deck and Yugi knowing Kaiba’s intentions and strategy without that help, being a duelist of top caliber of course). Kaiba predicting correctly Yugi will use Magic Formula and stealing the power with Absorb Spell for his Blue Eyes Ultimate Dragon; thinking he finally outplayed and defeated Yugi but King of Games proving him wrong; by predicting what he would do and playing the perfect counter. Check and mate.

    Talking about Yugi vs Kaiba, their duel in the very first episode also deserved at least a honorable mention in my humble opinion. Reasons being it is the only duel that we see the unstoppable Exodia (awe inspiring up to this day)- in normal dueling I mean. How they treated him in Dawn of the Duel, I didn’t like much. I think there is a reason why Exodia grants automatic and immediate victory to the player that summons him while Egyptian God cards, while described by Ishizu “stronger/more powerful than Exodia”-falsely, maybe just to lure Kaiba or just lame writing, idk, were defeated on many occasions, Yugi wanting to avenge what Kaiba did to his grandpa. And in the end, Yami/Atem “purged” Kaiba from the evil/darkness within (that returned to duel him later lolz) making Kaiba better as a person, pushing him to become an anti-hero/reluctant hero (interesting that Yami/Atem chose to use his powers in the most unexpected moments; Kaiba, Panik etc).

    Also, poor Tea. I know, she isn’t on Yugi’s level, but she has proven herself as a decent duelist. Able to easily beat Joey in his beginner days, before he got extensive training from Yugi’s grandpa and all the help he got from Yugi of course, showing that she was able to understand the game better and faster on her own (watching Yugi surely helped, but still). Mai may “let” her win but still, Tea was able to put up a good fight without being much experienced in the game (which seemed like a plothole there, showing her like Joey when Tea was wiping the floor with him). And she was able to beat Krum in the Virtual World arc with a whole new set of rules the Big 5 have made up, really catching up fast while Yugi struggled harder in his duel with Ganzly it would seem.

    Now, “complaints” are over. Regarding the final duel, Atem vs Yugi, it didn’t convince me that the Pharaoh “dueled with all his might and lost” therefore he could move on. For one, he never used Winged Dragon of Ra- most powerful of the Egyptian God cards to its fullest. I’m sure he was well aware of all his special abilities (thanks to Marik xD) but.. nothing. Or Obelisk’s like in his duel with Marik. What befuddled me even more is that when Atem said to Yugi: “I KNEW you would defeat the 3 Egyptian Gods!” then he brings out Dark Magician and “supposedly” Yugi’s “true test” begins; Dark Magician being his favorite monster etc. And since Atem “knew” what would happen, couldn’t he use this to his advantage and win? I suppose Atem “should” lose so Yugi could finally move on, being independent and the series to end of course.

    My 2 cents. Again, though, nice work and justification, Thumbs up 🙂

    P.S. Sorry for the long post

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    1. Seto Kaiba has the best lines. It’s why he’s so fun to watch.

      Of course, I welcome comments. Especially long thoughtful ones. This is a half-serious, half-fun list of YGO duels, borne out of a discussion I had with some friends who were talking about the most “epic YGO duels”. There were over 70 duels in this series alone. That’s a LOT of duels and I could only pick 10 (+1). Obviously there are more than 10 really awesome duels, so I picked the ones that scored best in my evaluating system.

      Undoubtedly, Yugi’s duel with Kaiba during Battle City Finals is one of the most epic duels in the series. Yugi and Kaiba’s familiarities with each other’s decks are downright uncanny and it’s a lot of fun to see Kaiba counter Yugi move for move and Yugi responding in kind. On a technical (“Clever Factor”), epic (“Cool Factor”) and symbolic (“Stakes Factor”) level, it is an excellent duel. Unfortunately, where the duel loses points is in its pacing and consequently, its suspense factor. The duel was great, but also very, very long, with tons of chitchat and sniping at each other. How many times are we subjected to Kaiba’s “I will totally beat you this time” and Yugi’s “You’ll lose to me because it’s my destiny to beat you” tirades? Part of what sparks a great duel is the duel’s outcome and it was made pretty obvious that Kaiba would lose this one as well.

      At this point, I only included one honorable mention (you’ll see I snuck in a few more for the GX list). Yugi and Kaiba’s duel certainly had a lot of significance, as well as the treat of seeing Exodia played. You bring up a good point about Exodia’s automatic win for the duelist who successfully summons it and arguably this makes Exodia more “unstoppable” than the Egyptian Gods, which tend to be overhyped. But don’t forget that Exodia has a huge drawback–it’s incredibly difficult to summon (at this point in the metagame) and as Yugi proved in his first Battle City duel, Exodia’s weaknesses can be easily exploited. Still, as the very first duel in the first season, the duel mechanics were primitive at best and the duel is pretty simplistic on a mechanical level, with mostly monsters and a few magic cards thrown around, which detracts points from that duel.

      In regards to your point about Exodia weaker than the Egyptian Gods, it may have been poor writing (hardly surprising, this IS YGO here) or a lure by Ishizu but they are certainly more dangerous. Exodia is strong but weak in pieces and it’s been shown in canon that the Gods are somewhat sentient and have powers beyond the game (i.e. Pegasus’s men were killed during the production of the cards) so they’re “strong” in that respect. I don’t recall Exodia murdering anyone.

      Yu-Gi-Oh!’s never been very fair to female duelists, eh? Tea may have been a better duelist prior to the series but Joey’s had more practice. She definitely picks up some things from watching Yugi but she is hindered by her deck, which simply hasn’t been built for competitive play. No wonder Mai dueled circles around her. And she got a lot better in the Virtual World arc (Maha Vailo is a OP card when used correctly). I wouldn’t say that she won the duel more easily (imho, Gangsley is a better duelist than Crump) though as I recall she spent most of the duel encased in ice.

      Hmm, you bring up a good point about the Atem/Yugi duel. Why didn’t Yugi use Ra or Obelisk’s special abilities? But let’s think about it. As cool as having three Egyptian God cards on the field sounds, it’s not a particularly practical move. Indeed, it takes a lot just to get them ALL on the field. Slifer’s special abilities are the easiest to utilize. Obelisk’s power requires monster sacrifices. And Ra’s special abilities also require tributes (ATK is determined by tributes’ ATK) and it can gain more ATK by transferring LP, or you can sacrifice 1000 LP for Phoenix Mode. The latter ability is more suited for an OTK strike since it leaves your LP in danger. I figured Atem didn’t make use of these moves because they were too costly?

      I know that it’s rather baffling that Atem places so much confidence in Yugi, especially since we see him dueling pretty much all the time. But the idea of Yugi being Atem’s dueling equal is something that’s started as far back as Battle City, in Yugi’s duel with Joey. It’s Yugi, not Atem, who turns the duel around and manages to find a way to save Joey and find a way to prevent Marik from winning the Puzzle. It’s also Yugi who warns Atem not to let his pride go to his head in the Oricalchos arc (Atem didn’t heed this advice in his first duel with Raphael, which is why he lost). And Yugi’s duel with Dark Bakura in the tomb really shows that he is a formidable opponent himself. It’s not unreasonable for Atem to think that Yugi could beat him. Yugi knows him better than anyone, which means that even if Atem pulls out his best moves, he expects Yugi to find a way to counter them. It’s like when you’re dueling an opponent you know is stronger than you. You’re going to play your best but you also know that you’ll probably lose. I find it funny that even Yugi’s friends doubt that Yugi will stand a chance. We doubt it too, because we have a better understanding of Atem’s strength. Atem was the only one who knew the extent of Yugi’s strength. Does that make sense?

      Long story short. Both Yugi/Kaiba duels are excellent duels in their own right, but didn’t make the cut due to duel mechanic issues (the first duel) and pacing issues (the Battle City one). Tea’s a better duelist than the show gives her credit for. Atem dueled his hardest but also went in knowing that Yugi was a better duelist than he was…and that Yugi is still able to grow better still. One of the advantages that the living have over the dead.

      Don’t apologize for the long post. I like long posts. Thanks for taking the time to comment 🙂

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      1. I like that you said “discussion”. Really, never meant to argue with you-just discuss.

        Yeah man, Kaiba is soooooo funny. His lines, everything. His “evil” laughs at times surpass even that of main antagonists. What I love most is how he disses Kuriboh all the time and ends up getting rekt by him- first, Kuriboh stopped his Ultimate Dragon dead cold at Duelist Kingdom. Then, he saved his sorry a$$ at the tag team duel vs the Rare Hunters (first tag team if I remember correctly by the way, was Yugi and Joey vs Para and Dox at Duelist Kingdom-unless you don’t count that season for the reasons you stated). And finally, his effect nullified Obelisk’s effect in the semi-final saving Yugi’s life points. Aw man, how I love Kuriboh. That “oooooh! oooooh!” just makes my day, no matter how down I feel. Plus, I bet that after the back to back fiascos Kaiba had with Final Attack Orders- Noah and Yugi, he’d NEVER EVER use that card again, haha.

        Yeah, I’m ok you leaving these duels out-especially since you agree how awesome and important they were. About Exodia and the Egyptian Gods.. The thing I noticed people telling about that (when I looked various threads and boards and stuff) is that Zorc “killed” Exodia but the Gods beated him when merged (cause alone they were easy prey) so they were like Creator of Light (gods merged)> Exodia > gods (unmerged). But I had a counter-argument to that, The Gods in the events in the Pharaoh’s memory were just like the other monsters; sealed in stone tablets. What’s more is that by destroying the tablets actually killed the Gods as well (that was done with Slifer if memory serves right). Exodia, on the other hand, was SEALED AWAY (he had such power, he was called the protector of Egypt) in 5 parts, chained. And his downfall wasn’t really his power lacking but his power source being Simon- a mere mortal (while Zorc was powered by darkness/evil itself). I just didn’t dig into that Ishizu quote to Kaiba-especially as the show progressed. Guess it goes to lame writing. Also, yeah, an Exodia deck certainly has its flaws. And the Rare Hunter had a deck specifically built around summoning Exodia and multiples of each part, unlike Yugi (though it turned out he was just a cheater).

        Coming back to Atem vs Yugi. The way I see it, Atem could do many things. Yeah, Ra’s abilities that needed sacrificing were maybe too much. But if you had to do everything necessary to win (which Atem had to) why not sacrifice Obelisk and Slifer for Ra? That would kinda ruin Yugi’s strategy to beat the gods also I think since he based it around Slifer’s second mouth ability. But I believe Atem shouldn’t go thus far. He could use Ra’s Phoenix Mode ability (I don’t remember exactly but I think -1000 life points wouldn’t put him at a disadvantage at that point-unless he was below) and then Yugi would be open for a direct attack- game over. Or use Obelisk’s effect for 4000 LP direct damage (sacrificing Ra and Slifer). Only thing that would save Yugi as we saw would probably be discarding Kuriboh-and that maybe wasn’t possible. By the way, I wasn’t implying that Yugi was “lacking” compared to Atem. He certainly came a long way. Atem was pretty much the “duel expert” of the 2 for most of the series, stepping in when time was right. But Yugi was a natural, learned from the best and.. became the best as well. Just, I wasn’t convinced that Atem played with all his strength and lost. Guess it is the writing again, That’s all 🙂

        P.S. Who do you think won Yugi vs Joey when they dueled at the end of Battle City arc? People say probably Joey because he had his Red Eyes back. But then, Waking the Dragons was a filler they say, Also, the Ceremonial Duel’s premise was that Atem had never lost a duel so far and he had to (it could be that Joey dueled Yugi and won and not Atem but it was Atem when the episode closed). Also, Yugi lost to Raphael too the first time which also didn’t count towards the Ceremonial (though Kaiba said that Yugi had to win so that he would get his King of Games title back. So then HE could beat Yugi and get it lolz). There was also the duel with Kaiba at Duelist Kingdom. But Atem had this duel won pretty much- Yugi stepped in and let Kaiba win.

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      2. Yeah, I keep things friendly here and welcome all kinds of opinions. As long it’s reasonably thought out and respectful, anything goes.

        Kuriboh is pretty boss. It’s not used much in competitive decks as far as I know but I’ve always found its effect useful–no idea what Kaiba’s talking about, there are waaay weaker monsters than Kuriboh.

        You bring up a good point about Exodia and the Egyptian Gods. However Slifer wasn’t actually “killed” when his tablet was damaged. His summoning was interrupted though. Akhnadin stabbed Slifer’s tablet with a sword, which presumably broke the connection between Atem and Slifer. Slifer was forcibly returned to the Shadow Realm but not before electrocuting the heck out of Akhnadin for breaking his tablet. I see the Gods more as celestial beings (since together they form Horakhty, the God of Light) and Exodia as associated with the earth. They’re all powerful but in different ways. Since Exodia is “sealed”, perhaps what Ishizue meant was that a sealed Exodia is weaker than the Egyptian Gods. *shrugs*

        We don’t get to see all of Yugi’s cards so there’s no way we could have known if Yugi had a counter for their special abilities. My instincts say that Yugi probably did. If you know your opponent’s going to have all three Egyptian Gods, you would probably want to make sure you can counter them. So let’s say that Yugi had counters ready and because Atem was aware that Yugi had his God strategy down, he might have held back. We’ll never know ^-^

        That’s a good question–who did win that duel? Joey might have won, if Yugi wasn’t dueling seriously. But maybe the reason why Joey got Red Eyes back was not necessarily because he won but because he showed Yugi how much he’s grown as a duelist. It’s a duel I would have liked to see…rather than have Tea and Serenity rehash everything that happened in Battle City.

        True, the Ceremonial Duel’s premise was to defeat Atem in a duel. Atem has certainly lost before (to Pegasus, to Raphael) but that was before he regained his memories and his true sense of self. Egyptian mythology is pretty big on the idea of soul theory and the afterlife–a soul without memories or a proper name is an incomplete one and it’s only when Atem regains his memories that he truly becomes Atem. The Ceremonial Duel was the first and last duel Atem, with his soul intact, had and it’s a duel he lost.

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  4. Yeah, it is a really messy situation. Just I am convinced, Ishizu told “cards stronger than Exodia” just to lure Kaiba go along with her plan because she certainly couldn’t mean it for real- especially Obelisk on its own, since Yugi took him down with his 3 Magnet Warriors and Brave Attack vs Gurimo.

    To close in on Atem vs Yugi, I guess it goes back to what you wrote about us knowing who would win in the end (one of the evaluation categories for the duels). The writers were like “Hey, let’s make it so Yugi wins so the series ends but make it look like Atem fought his hardest and lost, to seem convincing.” Yeah, that convincing part-they didn’t get it very well (to me at least). One last thing I’ll say to support this- Atem was going to bring back Slifer and not Ra. But even if he succeeded, it wouldn’t help him because of that rule that special summoned monsters (including fusion) cannot attack the same turn and Slifer would return to the graveyard (unless he intended just to block Yugi’s attack. But I don’t think Slifer’s attack/defense points would be enough). Ra would be able to do something because of his instant attack ability (again, thanks Marik). So, there you have it. Atem “busted” for not using the “objectively” best move once more (regardless that it wouldn’t succeed).

    You know where I believe Atem really went full try hard mode? This may come as a shocker but..when he dueled Weevil when the latter had the Seal of Orichalcos. He got so mad from the stunt Weevil pulled on him (rightfully I may say, it was so creepy, making them believe Yugi was gone forever and they couldn’t do anything about it) and he literally destroyed him afterwards in a blink (and kept attacking because of his anger), without the need for Timmaeus. “You’ll pay dearly” he said. Weevil muttered to himself “He must have planned this all along.” And generally, whenever despair/grief/anger struck him (seeing loved ones suffer/in danger).

    Yeah, I read about that too. That Atem/Yugi probably won but seeing how far Joey had come decided to hand him Red Eyes back- besides, it served its purpose in Yugi’s deck (like he needed that duel to see how far Joey progressed but anyways.. writing again). People said that Joey would be too proud and “arrogant” (in a good way) to accept Red Eyes back despite that he didn’t win or that Yugi didn’t try his hardest, letting Joey win on purpose (he’d notice that), others said that Yugi would convince him to accept it in the end. For me, this is the most plausible scenario as well, I mean, yeah, Joey became a great duelist for sure, but he couldn’t best Kaiba and Kaiba couldn’t beat Yugi (in a fair duel :p) so… And yeah, Tea and Serenity are very likeable characters, you can’t say otherwise, but I’d prefer to watch that duel too, haha.

    I forgot about that first duel with Pegasus. But I guess one shouldn’t count it because it wasn’t an “actual, face to face” duel plus Pegasus kinda made the rules himself-plus he cheated with the Millenium Eye (yeah, Atem/Yugi won many times when their opponent made his own rules lolz, but still…). Raphael’s victory sure counts-and there comes the “filler arc” stuff others talk about (and Yami was acknowledged as the Pharaoh long before then-even the Nameless one). I guess young people weren’t supposed to notice these kind of stuff but oh well..

    P.S. I am currently rewatching the show, I am midway season 4 right now. I’ll pay close attention to certain points when I get there, to have a refreshed view. And I have to tell you. Watching Ironheart, Sky and Chris being struck down by Dartz’s lightnings, their souls captured for Leviathan.. and Yami/Atem being griefstruck and mad again… it brought tears to my eyes (yeah I cried and I am a guy 26 years old)-even more than him falling down, crying after Yugi was captured. I’m not saying I wasn’t touched by that, of course I was but these scenes.. especially poor Chris… :”( (Yami begging her to turn back)

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    1. That’s par for the course with YGO cards. There’s always a ton of hype when they introduce a new card/deck archetype and then they’ll find ways to counter them…the God cards are no exception. Although, it’s debatable whether or not Gurimo was able to use Obelisk to its full ability since they’ve mentioned that only the Pharaoh has the power to make full use of the God cards…which again might be due to hype.

      I disagree that choosing to resurrect Ra would have been a better choice than Slifer. Ra’s instant attack ability (I’m guessing you’re referring to its invincible Phoenix mode) requires a payment of 1000 LP, which Atem could not have used since his LP was reduced from 1400 to 700 due to his use of Dark Magic Curtain. It doesn’t matter which God card Atem chose to special summon at all because Yugi’s Gold Sarcophagus would have sealed his Monster Reborn move. Atem could have easily picked Obelisk over Slifer, since they would have the same stats but I’d imagine he might have been attached to Slifer for sentimental reasons since that was his ace card at Battle City. I can see where you’re going with the idea that Atem “didn’t try his hardest” by not playing the best objective moves as possible but it’s easy for outsiders to look at a duel and go “Hey, that was not the best move to make” but things are different in the heat of a duel. While I agree that the writing for this duel was not perfect, I do think that the writers did their best to show that Atem did his best against Yugi at the time.

      Man, was that a brutal duel. Admittedly, the first half of the duel was rather lackluster with Weevil dominating and Atem pretty much a wreck but Atem really pulled it together at the end. The Berserker Soul + Breaker combo was sick!

      I agree that Yugi and Joey’s duel most likely ended in Yugi’s victory but the duel was really to see how far Joey’s improved since pre-Battle City. His deck’s definitely gotten a lot better (the rare cards he won certainly didn’t do any damage). Tea and Serenity are okay…while Tea gets some character development, poor Serenity’s stuck as the damsel in distress/plot device to help move along Joey’s character development. Like I said, with very few exceptions, YGO doesn’t treat women very well.

      Raphael may have been Atem’s true defeat but I still stand by what I said earlier about the ceremonial duel’s requirements that its combatants be two “whole souls”. Atem’s constantly referred to Yugi as “the other Yugi or the other half” in the original Japanese version. Both Yugi and Atem gained what the other lacked. Atem was brave but lacked compassion. Yugi was kind but lacked bravery and confidence. Through their experiences, the two halves became whole. And it’s only when they’re both whole that they could have a “proper” ceremonial duel.

      There’s a difference, I think, between being called “Pharaoh” and being an actual “Pharaoh”. In Battle City, Atem’s casually referred to as Pharaoh but at that point, he hasn’t earned the title yet. Which is why the filler arc was necessary…to give Atem a chance to go through the trials of becoming a good person on his own, without Yugi’s gentle light to always guide him.

      Yeah…this is Yu-Gi-Oh so I doubt writers expect viewers to read too deeply into things. But that’s what makes the show so fun.

      OMG, that Sky/Christ/Ironheart scene…gawd, you’re gonna make me cry. They do come back in the end, yeah? Or they might have already been dead to begin with but man, that was an emotional episode.

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  5. I am so glad you made Yugi vs Joey number 2. Hands down the most emotional duel in the series.

    Granted the Ceremonial Battle is very emotional too and I fully support your perfect score ranking but that duel took it to such a dark level.

    You can’t really think of a worse situation than that. Facing a loved one and win or lose 1 of you will die. It’s a heavy weight to carry. I love that duel and it never fails to get me emotional.

    Sorry to say this again (you’ve heard it enough) but I do wish the Yugi vs Kaiba BCF duel made the list. I can’t blame you though, the flashback I can understand and deal with. But examining Joey’s state of mind when he’s unconscious? Drags on far to long and shoots the duel in the foot. Still, I love the discussions between them. Despite Kaiba’s arrogance he acknowledges that duelling Yugi he is always pushed to his limits and Yugi’s unbreakable determination against the odds. Ahh… Just epic dude. Epic.

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    1. I’ve had the chance to rewatch the Yugi vs Kaiba BCF duel and would like to be slightly more forgiving of its abysmal pacing given that the duel is really such a good one. Chatter and flashbacking aside, there are some EXCELLENT, god-worthy combos. If I had to add it to the list, would probably rank it about a 7 or 8.

      Yugi’s sentimentality and fixation on honoring the past rubs Kaiba the wrong way because it’s the exact opposite of his dueling philosophy. What frustrates Kaiba is that he has a very clear idea of what makes a strong duelist and hates to be proven wrong. Yugi shows that there’s more than one way to be strong.

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      1. That’s cool ^^ it’s tricky I understand because every duel on this list deserves to be here.

        I honestly don’t mind the chatter that goes on between them because it’s the most interesting. It allows for their relationship to be examined fully, because out of all the gang Yugi has Kaiba’s grudging respect the most.

        Which is why his adknowledgment of being pushed to his limits is thematically perfect. It’s not just his duelling skills, it’s his philosophy too. Besides his duel with Noah and Dartz I don’t think Kaiba duelled any better.

        Don’t get me started how cool it was to see Red Eyes take down a Blue Eyes. That must have been a stinging blow for Kaiba to take.

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  6. Hi, I was looking for a list like this one and what I found was far better than what I wanted 😄 thank you very much.
    I hope you don’t mind a late reply, especially a long one.

    Anyway, as much as I like (and agree with) most of the duels in this list, there are many other duels that I wish I could see your thoughts on, so do you have any intention of making a list for the next top 10 duels? or something like that?

    Some of the duels that I find very interesting and are not mentioned here:
    1-Yugi vs Yami Bakura – (Battle City Semi-finals)
    I know the duel wasn’t much to talk about, but Yami Bakura’s deck in that episode really suited him.
    What I liked the most about the duel was how Yami Bakura decided to admit his defeat instead of following Marik’s plan of using the normal Bakura as a shield to stop Yugi’s attack, that made him one of my favorite characters of the show.
    2-Yugi and Kaiba vs the Masks of light and darkness (I think they were called Lumis and Umbra in the English version) – (Battle City)
    I don’t know why, but I always liked tag duels, and this one was the best since it had both Yugi and Kaiba teaming up.
    The duel itself was very interesting, the strategies those guys with the masks used were unique, they pretty much sealed Yugi and Kaiba’s strong monsters.
    My favorite part of the duel was when Kaiba provoked the mask of light to attack him instead of attacking Yugi, he did act like a tsundere later and said that he only did that because he needed Yugi to win, but we all know he cared enough to protect him.
    3-Yugi vs Konosuke Oshita (Gansley) of the Big Five – (Virtual World arc)
    It was a pretty random duel with many cards that haven’t been released in the real game, but still was very interesting, I don’t know what else to say about it, but for some reason it was my favorite out of the Big Five duels.

    Btw I also checked out your list for GX, are you planning to make a list for 5D’s as well? because that’d be awesome.
    Anyway, I’ll be sure to follow your work here, good luck.

    Like

    1. Nope, I’m cool with long replies, so feel free to write away.

      So many duels, so little time. Like you said, there are so many more duels worth talking about, including the ones you’ve mentioned. As for further Top 10 lists, I’m definitely open to the idea. I’m thinking I’ll probably do the 5Ds list first, just to get that out of the way. I’m thinking of going back to look at “underrated” YGO duels, which will give me a chance to talk about some of my favorites that didn’t make the Top 10.

      My two cents on the duels you mentioned:
      1) Yugi vs Yami Bakura- A good one. Like you said, Yami Bakura’s deck really suits him and foreshadows the long game that he’s playing (get his revenge, bring back Zorc). It’s really too bad that we only get to see him duel only a few times throughout the series but every duel tends to be pretty memorable. Yami Bakura’s decision to concede the match is a complicated one. While I wouldn’t go so far to say that it was an act of compassion, it does show that he does care about his host’s condition (he needs Bakura, a compatible corporeal body, to carry out his plans & to sustain himself). Might have also been a point of pride too–Bakura doesn’t strike to me as someone who likes being used and the thought of Marik as a puppeteer pulling the strings must have irked him immensely.
      2) Yugi/Kaiba vs Light/Dark Masks- Kaiba is such a tsundere, eh? Not sure if Kaiba at this point cares for Yugi but he does feel indebted to him (not to mention it would ruin his plans to beat Yugi himself by having some Ghoul/Rare Hunter nobody beat his rival) -_- Tag team duels ARE fun, especially when you put together two rivals together. Yugi/Kaiba are a formidable pair and if they worked together properly, they would probably overpower pretty much anybody. It’s like taking two OP singles players and sticking them in a doubles match. Yugi & co also have the constant disadvantage of not knowing their opponents’ decks (in contrast, Lumis/Umbra have thoroughly done their research).
      3) Yugi/Gansley- Haha, I don’t remember this duel very well other than the Rainbow Unicorn finisher bit with Swift Gaia and Rainbow Kuriboh and the Pharaoh making snarky quips at Gansley. The Deck Master concept they introduced was an interesting one though.

      Like

  7. Wow your list is awesome! It was really much fun to read it.
    I find it really great that you took the duels Yugi vs Strings, Joey vs Marik, Yugi vs Marik, Yugi vs Joey and Yugi vs Atem in your list because they are my favorites too. ^^

    The only ones that I miss are Yugi vs Bakura (Battle City) and Kaiba vs Ishizu. I like the first one because the whole atmosphere was brilliant. It also shows what a great duelist Yami Bakura really is (it’s really a shame that he only dueled three times). The second one isn’t necessarily a great duel but I really loved how shocked Kaiba was after he has realized that Ishizus power is real.

    I also pretty much liked the BCF duel from Yugi and Kaiba but I can completely understand why you didn’t mentioned it in the list (I pretty much hate the anime makers that they added this whole Joey-coma-dream-thing which wasn’t even in the manga) but I really liked the duel itself. And it was a great final rival duel too.

    But to tell the truth I can’t understand why so many duels from the doma arc are in the list. I rewatched almost every Yu-Gi-Oh Episode in japanese (except for the noah arc and the fifth season) but I must say that this arc was my least favorite one to watch. I loved this arc as a child but now I think the whole story was pretty pointless. I think you are right that the first Raphael duel was interesting (because the main character was the one who got lectured from the villain) but the way how Atem tried so hard to win by any chance even though the duel had no stake was pretty unrealistic to me. The duels were not bad but they didn’t had an emotional impact on me like the Battle City ones.

    By the way what do you think of Arc V so far? Zexal was pretty dissapointing for me because i couldn’t endure the horrible main character so I watched only 14 episodes. I tried to watch Arc V but I could just only watch one episode because i can’t stand Yuyas design and his monster looked awful to me. I heard that characters from other Yu-Gi-Oh series appear in this one which sounds pretty interesting but I don’t know if it would be worth it. What do you think? Do you think that the series is worth to watch it?

    But anyway you have done a great job by making this list and I would be very happy to see a Top Ten Duel list for 5Ds as well. ^^
    And I hope my english isn’t too bad because I write very rarely comments in english. ^^”

    Like

    1. Thanks! I feel like Battle City has many of the best duels in YGO. The other duels that you mention are also fantastic but didn’t make the list because they were lacking in some area. For the Yugi vs Kaiba, it was the pacing. For Yugi and Bakura, which ALMOST made the list, lost a few points in suspense (I imagine the writers realized that Bakura was not going to win, since this was not a final duel so they tried to inject some drama towards the end by having Yugi make an “impossible decision.”)

      I had the opposite reaction process from you. When I first watched the Doma arc, I didn’t like it very much because it felt like one long filler emo-fest. In contrast to the earlier seasons (DK, Battle City, Noah arc), the Doma arc is more heavily character driven and introspective. This season seems to have a polarizing effect on fans–viewers tend to either love this arc or hate it. I like it because it looks at the Pharaoh’s character much more critically. We’re so used to having the Pharaoh be the hero–which he is–but he also has his flaws. It’s nice to have characters that consistently win but it’s even more interesting to have them lose, so they learn and grow.

      A note about the Pharaoh’s first duel with Raphael. He did come across as a little out of character but I think that was mainly because the Oricalchos stone he was wearing around his neck served to amplify his worst characteristics–which are his pride and his drive to win at all costs. So far, his drive for winning has been for fairly good causes–(saving Yugi’s grandpa, saving the world from Marik’s evil, etc) but his unwillingness to back down from any challenge (even ones where only his pride is at stake) is a huge flaw of his and one that ultimately leads to his defeat in his first match with Raphael. The duels in Doma are a lot less “fun” to watch and are darker but personally I find them more interesting because they reveal a lot about the characters. Very few characters end up being “heroic”–even Yugi had to play dirty in order to show the Pharaoh the right path.

      I’m a lot further in with Arc V than with Zexal, which I stopped after episode 6-7 (so not very far at all). Arc-V has several of the same pitfalls that Zexal did. There’s definitely been a shift in type of YGO protagonist in terms of their dueling ability. Yugi, Judai and Yusei were all extremely competent duelists. Yuuma on the other hand, starts off as a complete novice while Yuya’s dueling track record hovers about 50-60% victories. It does get better though, especially once you move past the introduction of all of the major supporting characters and dive into the actual conflict (I won’t spoil much but let’s just say Arc-V takes inter dimensional traveling to a whole new level for the YGO franchise). It did make me realize how much YGO depends on the characterization of the main character–if we aren’t invested in the Yutagonist, the series is a lot less enjoyable.

      The 5D’s list will most likely be out sometime early next year (I have other projects I’d like to work on and will be pacing out the lists to one a year.)

      Also, thanks again for your wonderful comment. Always glad to hear feedback from readers.

      Like

  8. I tried watching yu gi oh GX long ago, it was so shitty I couldn’t. I thought it was for really dumb and young kids.
    Then I saw 5Ds and the motorcycles and was like “omfg this is going to be way shittier than GX”. I might have watched a little and was confirmed by this (it was featured on a very young kid channel).

    I watched first episodes of yu gi oh these days, ok it’s slow at start but after episode 3 it gets better (even if duels seem to be wtf-norules at this point).
    The dubbing (in french) is well done and funny (joey and tristan). Dialogs are good even if there are these typically annoying “friendship is everything, trust in your cards and in your heart” -__-

    So I wonder if there is another serie as good as the first yu gi oh serie (first = the one from 2000). I liked a lot characters like pegasus (best), kaiba, joey, marek/marik, and eventually bakura (but i dont remember much about him).
    Since you seem to be very fond of YUGIOH, you might give some insights.

    Like

    1. I can’t speak for the French dub since I’ve only watched YGO in English and Japanese but the original series will always be number one for me…the friendship is everything trope is pretty much par for the course for any standard shonen but there’s something charming about how YGO drives home the message. Even if the world looks bleak, you’ll always have friends and card games.

      I’m not surprised that you didn’t like GX. A lot of YGO fans don’t and it’s only second in worst reputation out of all the YGO series (in case you’re wondering, Zexal is notoriously disliked by most YGO fans, and even the hardcore ones say that you have to tough out 50+ episodes before it actually gets any good).

      The question you ask is a hard one to answer because it’s based on a metric that I find problematic–what do you mean by “as good” as the original YGO series? Compelling characters? Awesome duels? Interesting plot? Every YGO series does dueling differently: GX starts off childish but then evolves into a coming-of-age story. 5Ds takes on an edgier, darker tone and ends up being a story more appropriate for young adults. I haven’t finished Zexal so I can’t say much about it but Zexal and Arc-V (which is currently airing) seem to be returning back to the original YGO series’ theme of friendship cheese, supernatural pendants and mystical alter-egos but are more kid-friendly in tone. If you’re looking for a series similar in tone to the original, I’d recommend giving 5D’s another try as I think it’s closest in spirit.

      Like

    2. “Then I saw 5Ds and the motorcycles and was like “omfg this is going to be way shittier than GX”. I might have watched a little and was confirmed by this (it was featured on a very young kid channel).”

      5Ds has actually a much mire serious tone. And it has many similarities to the original. But instead saving the past, they have to save the future.

      Like

  9. I think its ridiculous that ATEMs duel against DARTZ wasnt among the best duels ever i mean DARTZs deck was almost perfect every move he made was calculated rightly and the story he told about atlantis was nice adding to everything i swear theres a conspiracy here. About ATEMs duel against yugi moto i think it dosent truly count yugi just had tremendous amount of luck he can never truly be the king of games ATEM will always be the one true and eternal king of games yugi could never defat DARTZ yugi could never defat Yami Marik thats what i feel you can go ahead and call me a retard all you want but i wont change my mind so bye bye sinners. Thats all i had to say farewell you foolish, blind, naive and misguided mortals.

    Like

    1. Hey, let’s refrain from name-calling on this blog. We’re all civilized folk here and while I get your excitement to talk about card games, let’s keep things on the positive and reasonable side, yeah? If you check out part I of my Top Ten YGO Duels list, you’ll see that in fact, Atem’s duel with Dartz DID make it in the Top Ten at #6. It’s a great duel, with some of the most insane, most ingenious plays ever…but it loses points with its pacing. Dartz’s Atlantis story was nice but there was also an awful lot of talking and really not enough dueling.

      My first time watching YGO, I was a lot like you in regards to the Atem/Yugi match-up. How could puny Yugi beat the awesome Atem? It’s easy to dismiss Yugi because we’ve seen Atem duel so often but throughout the progression of the series, you see Yugi quietly get stronger as a person and as a duelist. Think about it. You see Yugi’s flashes of brilliance pretty early on–around the end of Duelist Kingdom:

      1) Yugi vs Pegasus- When Atem is losing horribly against a cheating Pegasus, he’s at his wit’s end when his strategies are turned against him over and over again. It’s YUGI, not Atem, who comes up with the idea of the Mind Shuffle–to separate their minds and duel separately–and this is the first time we get to see Yugi duel on his own. He’s the one who comes up with the idea of using Living Arrow to counter Pegasus’s Magic Neutralizing Force card and destroy Toon World. WHICH IS AN AMAZING COMBO. Not to mention he follows that up by whomping Pegasus with a good ol’ Mirror Force. AND, don’t forget that Yugi was able to read far enough into the game that he was able to figure out that Atem would need his RITUAL OF DARK MAGIC card to bring out MAGICIAN OF BLACK CHAOS.

      2) Yugi vs Bandit Keith. We see Yugi take on a possessed Bandit Keith in the beginning of the Battle City arc. Now Bandit Keith isn’t really that great of a duelist but what makes him dangerous is that it’s really Marik pulling the strings and dueling against Yugi. Now this duel was never concluded properly because Keith went crazy but before that Yugi was able to counter Keith’s tactics perfectly despite being very emotionally distraught.

      3) Yugi vs Joey. Ahhh, the famous friendship battle. People seem to forget that while Atem STARTED the duel, YUGI is the one who finishes it…effectively giving Marik a good, swift kick in the arse while doing so. It’s an amazing duel and Yugi pulls moves so gutsy that even Atem remarks that he wouldn’t be sure he would have the courage to do so. I mean, playing Exchange after drawing Red Eyes when your possessed friend can just nab it? Playing Mirror Refpanel to catch your opponent’s attack and redirect it to yourself just to make a point? It’s crazy dueling no serious duelist would ever do…and that’s why Yugi becomes such a strong character. They cut out this wonderful part where Atem is watching Yugi after the gang group hugs the heck out of each other and Atem is in awe of how strong Yugi’s become, and how Yugi was able to figure out how to play out the duel in such a way that both Yugi and Joey survived…he makes that ominous (and correct!) conclusion that Yugi’s potential as a duelist is just beginning and at the rate Yugi’s going, he’ll surpass Atem some day…

      4) We don’t ever get to see Yugi face off against Yami Marik…but it’s wrong to say that Atem won by himself. There were many, many points in the duel, where things took a dark turn or Marik–that smug bastard–had the perfect counter waiting–but Atem relied on Yugi’s support and even the support of his friends (heck, he even relied on Kaiba and decided to freak him out by drawing the card he gave him). And while he pulled off a magnificent victory over Yami Marik, the point is that he couldn’t have done it alone. Cheesy, I know but it’s the message that YGO keeps throwing at us again and again.

      5) We’ll skip the Orichalcos arc because the whole point of that arc was to show how vulnerable Atem really is. Yes, Atem is King of Games; yes, he’s an astounding duelist…but he’s only human. He’s not a god–he’s not undefeatable. And this is a lesson he learns in this season–that failure happens, and for winners, failure can be the most crippling thing ever. It takes him half a season for him to get back on his feet and even then, it’s not until his duel with Dartz, when he’s on the cusp of defeat that he finds that strength again. And where does that strength come from? From his badass friends. The King of Games may be powerful when standing alone but he is GODLY when he has his friends, the entire world by his side.

      6) Yami Marik may be a good duelist but I wager that Yami Bakura is better. Why? Because he’s the better strategist. He plays the long game and doesn’t reveal his hand until the very last moment. It’s why he’s the final villain at the end, even when we see him beaten so early on, because Bakura is one sneaky bastard. In fact, he’s got Atem moving like a puppet in his hand during their final Shadow Game and Egypt seems doomed for…but a certain tri-colored haired squirt is standing in his way. Yugi’s duel with Bakura is underrated b/c it’s overshadowed by all of the apocalyptic mayhem happening above ground but Yugi WIPES the floor with Bakura, who even Kaiba had trouble with.

      7) Yu-Gi-Oh! is many things and subtle is not one of them. I’d argue that Yugi’s trajectory and growth as a character is one of the more subtle things about the show. Unlike Judai in GX, Yugi doesn’t grow up by leaps and bounds, but he does mature. He goes from becoming dependent on Atem to becoming a formidable duelist in his own right. In fact, you see the reverse happen to Atem. He starts off as this confident mysterious guy who everyone depends on to win and becomes someone who, well, someone who everyone still expects to win, but emotionally, he’s grown to depend on Yugi, who he sees as his partner, his aibou, his other half.

      8) It’s hard to run with hypotheticals but while we’ll never know if Yugi could have beaten Dartz or Yami Marik in Atem’s place, I don’t think his victory over Atem was a sham. Atem didn’t pull any punches–he brought out all three Egyptian Gods out in a turn–that’s pretty hard core, but his purpose for dueling Yugi definitely affected his style and approach. Unlike all of his other duels, the stakes aren’t as high. This isn’t a duel where his loss is synonymous with the “end of the world”–this is a duel to test Yugi’s character. It might have been a different matter if Atem’s loss meant the death of someone dear to him…I suspect Atem might have dueled very differently if his loss meant Yugi’s death rather than his. And their final duel is really a farewell message to the YGO fan–I mean, how many duels do we have Egyptian God Cards, Dark Magician, Dark Magician Girl, and all of our Duelist Kingdom fan favorites? And to respond to your comment that Yugi has “tremendous luck”, that’s true, but YGO tells us over and over again that luck IS a skill, perhaps the most important skill you need to win, because even if you’re the best strategist, with all of the best cards and all the time to concoct and simulate duels to beat your opponent (cough, cough, Kaiba), without luck on your side, you’re gonna lose. Besides, luck as a skill is something that Atem literally has as a magical power. In his final duel with Yugi, he can, with pure magic and willpower alone, draw EXACTLY the card he wants when he wants it.

      9) I don’t necessarily disagree with your statement that Atem will always be seen as the King of Games. In a way, he is. But “eternal” is a funny word. It describes Atem’s existence. He died at a tragically young age and then was placed in 5000-years of purgatory via the Millennium Puzzle, stripped of all of his memories and sense of self. He was able to “live” again through Yugi but always lurking in the background, there’s this undercurrent of urgency…of finding out who he is, of finding out his purpose for still existing, of fulfilling that purpose…to what end? To discover peace and in YGO and for Atem, peace means an ending. Peace means an end to that eternity of living. Peace means death. I’d like to think that Atem losing to Yugi is not so much the moment where he stops becoming the King of Games. It’s more of a promise Yugi makes…that he’ll continue to carry on Atem’s memory and his dueling knowledge and will grow up to become the King of Games himself. And who says that there can’t be more than one King of Games anyway? The crazy number of spinoffs all seem in agreement that a dynasty of Game Kings is totally in the cards.

      I could talk all day, my friend, but I realize the length of my reply is getting ridiculous. Rest easy that this isn’t a definitive Top 10 list, just MY Top 10 list. As perfectly scientific as my approach is, it’s not truly objective.

      Like

      1. ” When Atem is losing horribly against a cheating Pegasus”
        How is using a Millenium item cheating? Then Yugi cheats everytime. Also Pegasus didn´t use his ace cards in that duel.

        Like

    1. I think Kaiba kind of did lose. Due to the effects of “Last Turn” expiring during Kaiba’s end phase, Noah still had a monster while Kaiba had none (Blue Eyes wiped out Shinato’s Ark, but Shinato’s Ark’s destruction triggered the summoning of “Shinato, Being of a Higher Plane”) and because of this, Noah won by default (a really lousy way to win, but hey, card rulings are card rulings).

      Noah turning Kaiba to stone was him just being salty that Mokuba still chose Kaiba over him.

      Like

  10. “Practically speaking, it’s the weakest one of the three Egyptian Gods.”
    No, it isn´t. It has been stated several times in the anime that Obelisk and Slifer are equally balanced. If you have enough cards, Slifer can easily overpower Obelisk.

    And one last thing: We did see all 3 god cards in Pyramid of Light 🙂

    Like

    1. It’s debatable, but I took Obelisk’s special effect (sacrifice two monsters to raise his power to infinity during the battle phase) into consideration. Slifer’s ATK can overpower Obelisk’s default 4000 ATK stat but you need at least 5 cards in your hand and Slifer’s ATK can never be infinite at any point because you can’t have an infinite number of cards in your deck.

      As much as I adored Pyramid of Light as a wee kid, I don’t consider it canon.

      Like

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