Table of Contents
- Beginning Your Journey
- Building a Card Collection
- Jumping into Ranked
- The Meta
Yu-Gi-Oh is not well-known for its healthy learning curve and enjoyable new-player experience. While many other card games do a reasonable job of integrating fresh-faced nerds hyped to play whatever awful garbage they just saw on the anime into their TCG, Yu-Gi-Oh’s introductory process involves meticulous reading of a 50-page document, mountains of research about the convoluted combos that lurk in meta strategies, and a tearful three hour grapple with a bottle of wine and the wiki article explaining the damage step. For many Yu-Gi-Oh players, toughing out the first painful month of competitive play is a badge of honor, but for many casual players, it represents an impenetrable barrier.
Despite this, two things have always driven interest in Yu-Gi-Oh, regardless of its difficulty: its anime and its supplemental product. While VRAINS has been a great vehicle for players interested in link summoning to return to the game, Yu-Gi-Oh’s premier alternative dueling program, Duel Links, suffers from many of the same problems found in paper. While the cards are much more simple, the difficulty of obtaining them combined with the endlessly flashing lights and clunky UI are often enough to turn mobile gamers off of Duel Links. For veteran players of Yu-Gi-Oh, it can be difficult to enjoy in the grind of attacking your opponent with The Illusory Gentleman over and over during Duel Links’ first hours of gameplay.
Hopefully, this article can serve as a guide both for new players looking to dip their toes into Yu-Gi-Oh for the first time and seasoned duelists looking to make the transition to mobile. In it, I will explain some of the best strategies for beginning the transition, building a card collection, jumping into ranked, and metagaming.
Learn the Rules
One of the most alluring parts of Duel Links is its simplicity, especially when compared to the out-of-control master game. Still, a crash course on the intricacies of Speed Duels, Dueling Link’s format, is definitely a good starting point. Speed Duels are played with 20-card decks. Each player starts with 4000 LP and four cards in their hand, and just like in Master Duels, the player who goes first does not draw on their first turn. Unlike Master Duels, however, there is no extra monster zone (at least, not during the time this article has been published) and only three spell/trap zones and main monster zones. The monster zones function as though master rule 4 never happened, and in the unlikely event you DO summon a fusion monster, it will be automatically placed in the highest-priority zone in this order: middle, right, left. Each duelist has an activated ability, called a skill, as well: some, like restart, are generic, and some, like beatdown, are specific to individual legendary duelists. Most importantly, there is no main phase 2, so after you have completed your battle phase, your turn ends.
Because of these many differences, you will have to rethink how you perform card evaluation. It’s going to be very difficult at the beginning to understand why certain cards are good and certain cards are bad (this is a format where Security Orb is playable but Cyber-Stein isn’t) because of a Master Duel-oriented bias. You will have to actively work to restrain your anger as you reluctantly jam the top-tier-playable Windstorm of Etaqua into your deck. A lack of main phase two and effective spell/trap removal means that battle traps, equip spells, and combat tricks are some of the most powerful cards in the format. Additionally, certain cards are enabled by specific skills – Jade Insect Whistle is laughably bad, but when combined with Weevil Underwood’s Parasite Infestation, which shuffles several copies of Parasite Paracide into your opponent’s deck at the beginning of the match, it represents one Time Seal and two Meteor of Destruction in a single card. Keep these in mind when deciding which cards to convert to gold, especially early on.
Beginning Your Journey
The first five minutes of Duel Links are absurd. After completing the tutorial, players are immediately bombarded with dozens of advertisements for new sets, roaming events, and redeemable cards. I tried to get a friend into the game, and after the fourth announcement of Duel-a-Thon, he turned to me and asked “is this a scam?” It can be incredibly alienating, especially as a mobile gamer who has been taught to be suspicious of any free game that’s a little too excited to show them sales, to begin your game with pages upon pages of advertisement. As a beginner, you’ll need to develop the skill to differentiate between event announcements that reward you with rare cards and characters, giveaways that require action on your part, and straight-up advertisements.
After successfully maxing out your parent’s credit card, you’ll want to take a look at Duel Link’s single-player content. The main metric of progression is “stages,” a checklist of in-duel actions you can complete for rewards of gems, gold, and keys. Early on, you’ll want to clear stages quickly in order to meet certain thresholds that unlock the auto-duel function, which plays the game for you, the gate, which causes powerful duelists with rare cards to appear, and characters, several of whom will only show up once you’ve cleared a certain number of stages. Be warned: clearing stages also gradually levels up the caliber of opponents you’ll find in Duel World, so if you don’t have the cards to compete, be wary of grinding too quickly.
Your primary method for grinding will be to play against the roaming duelists in Duel World. Early on, you will only encounter a few duelists at a time, but as you stage up, more duelists will be available at once. If you get tired of exciting 1300-beater combat, the auto-duel function allows you to grind these duelists for experience automatically. Alongside the light-blue-colored duelists, roaming legendary duelists and The Vagabond also occasionally appear. These duelists do not require energy to duel against, and are free to challenge any time you see them. The Vagabond specifically gives an inordinate amount of experience, even if you lose while dueling under his challenges, and allows you to direct him back and forth between your friends list. If you have the opportunity to introduce The Vagabond to your friends, set the challenge to “Opening Hand: 1 Card,” as it gives the most experience. Keep in mind, every time you complete a stage, the availability of duelists in Duel World will reset, so make sure you defeat them all before accepting the completion award if you’re trying to get maximum experience.
Building a Card Collection
During your first twenty stages, you may have opportunities to find, collect, or craft certain cards. While most of paper Yu-Gi-Oh is intensely xenophobic, Duel Links, like GOAT format, has a variety of generic cards that both set the boundaries for the power level of the format and find their way into >90% of playable decks. Acquiring those cards is often required before entering high-level ranked play, so they deserve a little lip service.
What to Prioritize
The following five spells, traps, and monsters are universally playable. For new players, snagging these cards can feel like a prerequisite to playing competitively, so I will detail their locations, their rarity, and the methods by which they can be acquired below.
Enemy Controller – SR – Duel assessment reward for Lv. 30 or higher Seto Kaiba, Ranked Duels Reward
Mirror Wall – UR –Neo-Impact
Sphere Kuriboh – UR – Ultimate Rising
Super Rush Headlong – SR – Dawn of Destiny
Windstorm of Etaqua – R – Mai Valentine Level 25 level reward
Cards you can Grind
A significant portion of cards can be acquired by leveling up individual duelists. As a general rule, deck-specific cards are level-up rewards for the legendary duelists who use their deck: Weevil gets Insect Armor with Laser Cannon, Mako gets Beautunaful Princess, etc. The best place to spend your experience in the early stages of the game, however, is on Mai Valentine in pursuit of Windstorm of Etaqua. Cards that change the battle position of opponent’s monsters are at a premium, and this is one of the best tools available. It is also the only way to find this card, and there’s only one copy, so take advantage of the early duelist refreshes and easy stage clears to power Mai Valentine up to the level 25 threshold as quickly as possible.
Additionally, several cards are only available as random drops for beating legendary duelists. This is a massive hurdle to overcome for new players, since using the gate requires a stage high enough to access high-level duelists, a consumable (keys) in order to challenge, an unusually-expensive deck for grinding optimally, and a mastery of RNG to influence drops. Thankfully, the most important reward card, Enemy Controller, is also available by redeeming an SR ticket, the reward for winning 30 games in ranked mode. Once you’ve got a deck good enough for ranked, grinding Enemy Controllers through ticket collection should become your top priority.
The gems that you will passively collect while grinding stages are used to purchase packs from the store. These packs come from one of several different boxes, each comprised of a main box and a mini-box. For several of the cards, like Sphere Kuriboh and Mirror Wall, only one copy is available in a 200-pack box, which can be very frustrating for new players trying to build a collection. If you are hoping to jump into ranked as quickly as possible, the first pack you should invest in is Dawn of Destiny. Dawn of Destiny contains Super Rush Headlong, a format staple, but more importantly, contains the entire KOG-viable Naturia Beat deck at low rarity. After opening between 30-50 packs of this set, you should have to tools to make a slightly suboptimal version of said deck. Afterwards, you can begin the slow grind of opening as many Ultimate Rising and Neo-Impact packs as possible in a desperate attempt to snag the one or two staples contained therein. Make sure to prioritize earlier packs first, as they have previously removed availability (but not legality) of earlier releases.
The Card Trader
The last place you can find cards is in the Card Trader’s store. The Card Trader, a Duel Links feature, unlocks at stage 7, and then expands his collection of wares at stage 17. By using the otherwise-useless gold and jewels you accrue by completing missions and defeating duelists, you can purchase cards from his selection, which rotates on an 8-hour schedule. While most of his selection isn’t particularly meta-relevant, linchpin cards for quirky decks are well-represented, with individual cards like Kaibaman, Hammer Shark, and Flash Assailant all seeing a lot of play in their own respective strategies. Additionally, the availability of Riryoku and Mythical Beast Cerberus is an easy way for new players to construct decks that do over 9999 damage in one turn – a critical threshold for getting better duel assessments and rewards against legendary duelists.
Jumping into Ranked
If you find yourself longing to see what lurks outside the starter deck meta of single player, you’ll want to jump into ranked. This can be hard to do without a collection, but by making use of some of the game’s few stepping stones, we should be able to make a deck that’s good enough to rank up very quickly.
The Ladder and Ranked Rewards
Before we start playing, it’s important to know what we’re playing for. Ranked Duel Links has seven different ranked tiers: Rookie, Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, Legend, and King of Games, and each is subdivided into several different sections within tiers as well. It gets harder to rank up the farther you go (for example, it only takes a net two wins to rank up in Silver, but it takes four in Platinum) but you can’t fall out of the lowest rank in any given tier (once you make silver, you can’t fall back to bronze). You’re awarded prizes based on how many cumulative wins you earn, and some of those prizes can be redeemed for cards in a prize gallery like the snowboard you almost got with skee-ball tickets. The most important one of these is Enemy Controller, an SR card, so when building the decks below, remember that those are the thresholds you’re shooting for.
If you selected Yugi during the opening tutorial, advance your stage to 15. This will cause Seto Kaiba to appear at the gate. After unlocking him, you should be able to purchase “Dragonic Force,” the dragon-themed structure deck from the store. This deck has cards that are much more powerful, on average, than the cards you will be receiving as a result of AI victories or random pulls from packs. If you can afford it, try to buy two copies of the deck, but if you can’t, one will get you far enough. Since it’s unlikely you’re going to have enough battle spells and traps to fill out the rest of the deck, you can use equip spells and traps that target to make full use of Hieratic Dragon of Nuit’s effect and Block Attacks to serve as makeshift Enemy Controllers. Here is a sample list, made exclusively from cards available from the two structures and level-up rewards.
|SKILL: Peak Performance|
Hieratic Dragon of Nuit x3
Hunter Dragon x3
Koumori Dragon x3
Exploder Dragon x2
|Spells||Dragon Treasure x2
Block Attack x1
|Traps||Tyrant Wing x2|
While rudimentary, this deck should be powerful enough to at least propel you through Rookie rank. By using Tyrant Wing and Dragon Treasure to trigger your Hieratic Dragon of Nuit’s effect, you can ensure you have tribute fodder for your Wattaildragon, which at this point on the ladder will be almost unbeatable.
Upgrading this deck into something playable is similarly simple – by keeping an eye out for Vanguard of the Dragon in the Card Trader, snagging Element Dragon from individual packs, and grinding for copies of Enemy Controller, the deck goes from budget playable to a reasonable mid-tier platinum brew.
When you eventually tire of beating 1900-attack dragons into each other, the most affordable deck available for new players is Naturia. Here is a sample list:
|Monsters||Naturia Marron x3
Naturia Stag Beetle x3
Naturia Hydrangea x3
Naturia Pumpkin x3
Naturia Pineapple x1
|Spells||Enemy Controller x2
Super Rush Headlong x1
|Traps||Exterio’s Fang x3
Windstorm of Etaqua x1
With the exception of Windstorm of Etaqua, which is available by leveling up Mai Valentine, Enemy Controller, which is available from ranked rewards and Legendary Kaiba, and Naturia Pineapple, a replaceable rare from Land of the Titans, this entire deck can be found in the Dawn of Destiny pack at reasonably-low rarity. Use the gems you’ve ground from stage completion to purchase those packs and the ranked tickets you’ve ground from struggling through low ELO to purchase those Enemy Controllers, and you should have more than enough to put this deck together. The skill required for the deck, Beatdown, is a level-up reward for Kaiba that you’ll definitely have by this point in the game. Naturia is more than capable of achieving King of Games, the ladder’s highest rank, so it’s a great stepping stone for individuals who want to experience what high-level play has to offer.
Eventually, of course, you will graduate from the ranks of budget player and migrate to one of the several top-tier decks that currently dominate the format. Duel Links is far from solved and deck diversity far outnumbers the tier-one playable decks in paper Yu-Gi-Oh, so I’ll conclude by examining some of the most popular decks at the recently-concluded Yu-Gi-Oh Duel Links World Championship.
Red-Eyes Black Dragon
This is arguably the best deck in the format. Two things hamper its overall playability: with eight UR cards, it’s squarely out of the price range of most players, and a critical card in the deck, Red-Eyes Insight, is a randomly-attainable event reward. Despite this, this deck and zombie-oriented versions with Gozuki featured prominently at the World Championship. This is Samson Yoshida’s list from that tournament.
|Monsters||Red-Eyes Wyvern x3
Red-Eyes Zombie Dragon x2
Red-Eyes Black Dragon x3
|Spells||Tribute to the Doomed x2
Red-Eyes Insight x2
Cards of the Red Stone x1
|Traps||Red-Eyes Spirit x3
Champion’s Vigilance x3
Burst Breath x1
Pegasus’ hallmark deck returns for a shot at superiority in Duel Links. This deck is similarly difficult for new players to build, mostly because of the several event exclusives found in the deck. Since events routinely rotate, it won’t be long before these cards are once again available, but until then, this deck may lie out of reach. It attempts to use terraforming-lite Planet Pathfinder to find a copy of Toon Kingdom, then set up strong attacks with Toon Summoned Skull or OTKs with Toon Dark Magician Girl and Toon Rollback. This is Tutpup’s list from World Championships.
|Monsters||Sphere Kuriboh x3
Toon Summoned Skull x3
Toon Mermaid x3
Toon Dark Magician Girl x1
Skull-Mark Ladybug x1
Planet Pathfinder x3
|Spells||Toon Kingdom x1
Toon Table of Contents x1
Toon Rollback x1
|Traps||Rising Energy x2
Curse of Anubis x1
The scourge of the format, Tea Mill is a deck for the individual with no concern for what their opponents think of them. By taking full advantage of the fact that deck size is greatly diminished in Duel Links, they use cards that would mill their opponents for an insignificant amount in paper YGO to quickly mill their opponent’s entire deck. It also doubles as a generally affordable deck for new players, since most cards are either easily-obtainable or generically good cards to have in your collection. This is Dkayed’s list from World Championships.
|SKILL: Duel, standby!|
|Monsters||Warm Worm x3
Hiro’s Shadow Scout x3
Jowls of Dark Demise x2
Sphere Kuriboh x1
|Spells||Cup of Ace x3|
|Traps||A Feint Plan x3
Assault on GHQ x2
Curse of Anubis x1
Windstorm of Etaqua x1
Chain Destruction x1
Duel Links is not an easy sell to new players, which is troubling for the casually-targeted counterpart to the Yu-Gi-Oh TCG. While part of the blame for this predicament lies with Konami and their capitalization on proven freemium marketing tactics, much of it is an unfortunate result of a lack of resources and data from outside sources – YouTube videos, tutorials, and tournaments designed to aid new players in deck decision or help them develop the skills necessary to adapt to a new format. Hopefully, this article can become a part of that canon, and can help both skilled duelists attempting to transition to the mobile platform and individuals dueling for the first time as well.