Long ago, in the distant year of 2002, a trading card game called Yu-Gi-Oh! made its way to North America and Europe. This small card game from Japan would eventually grow into a global phenomenon with huge tournaments and thousands of cards. However, amongst these early months of the game, there was none of the complexity of combos or deck types that would appear later. Instead, there was but one deck that dominated the face of the game: Beatdown.
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It is important to note that at this point, the game’s primary audience was younger children who watched the TV show. The issue here comes from the fact that the show at this point did not follow the actual rules of the real life game, meaning a large portion of the game’s target audience would play the game without properly understanding the rules, limiting the competitive player base of the game. It is also important to remember that there was little to no online community for the game in these early days as well as no tournaments bigger than those held at local shops. Because of this unstructured and immature form the TCG was in for the first year or so of its existence, the most common strategy tended to be jamming 40 to 50 of the best cards that a duelist had into their deck and using that to compete. This was facilitated by the fact that the cardpool of the early game consisted of only 2 Starter Decks and one regular booster set ,made up of near useless monsters. While the cardpool from these two releases was mostly unusable, it still gave the game a handful of powerful cards. These few useful cards would go on to form the backbone of the early competitive game.
Summoned Skull Beatdown
The core strategy of a Beatdown deck was extremely simple: beat down the opponent’s life points with powerful monsters until you win. It was to this end that the deck, especially early on, focused on utilizing the strongest and most easily summonable monsters available at the time. This focus gave rise to the earliest competitive form of Beatdown: Summoned Skull Beatdown. This deck focused on using its namesake card, the strongest one tribute monster in the game at the time, to create a powerful field presence. This was then combined with a variety of high attack monsters that could be summoned without tributing. The original attack cap for these monsters without having some kind of drawback was 1800, seen in La Jinn, Mystical Genie of the Lamp (Starter Deck Kaiba) and 7 Colored Fish (Metal Raiders). La Jinn was, however, rapidly beaten out by a monster with 1850 attack called Mechanicalchaser, but this card was an ultra rare from the first Tournament Pack (boosters of 3 cards only distributed by official tournament stores) and was therefore difficult for the majority of players to get their hands on.
Beyond these powerful normal monsters, the rest of a Beatdown deck consisted of the various staple cards that a player had, a pool which expanded rapidly with every release in 2002. The only truly staple effect monsters at the time were Man-Eater Bug and Wall of Illusion, cards that, while outclassed within a few years, were truly formidable in this early game. The other core staples used by the deck after the first month of the game were primarily the five classic power staple Spell Cards: Pot of Greed, Monster Reborn, Raigeki, Dark Hole, and Change of Heart. All of these cards, excluding Dark Hole, shared the common feature of granting their user a significant advantage with no actual cost to the player. The sheer power of these cards caused the creation of the of the first ever Limited List, restricting their usage in any given deck to 1. Unlike today’s Forbidden and Limited Lists, the original Limited List only restricted cards to be run at 1 or 2 copies in a deck, but did not forbid the usage of any cards. The trend at the time was for a new list to usually be released around a month after the release of a major set so as to restrict all of the major power staples that were coming out in every new set at the time soon after they entered the game. Other common cards included Trap Hole and Fissure, which both allowed for easy single monster removal as well as Waboku, one of the best traps available out of the extremely small pool of traps that existed at the time. Waboku, for those who used it, was an extremely potent card, blocking all damage for a turn in a format where the only thing decks wanted to do was as much damage as possible. Swords of Revealing Light was also an extremely powerful card for those who could get their hands on it as Spell and Trap destruction was largely unheard of this point, making it a very difficult card to get past.
The Evolution of Beatdown
The advent of the second booster set, Metal Raiders, added several effect monsters to the pool of good and usable cards. These monsters mainly included Witch of the Black Forest, Sangan, and Magician of Faith. Witch of the Black Forest and Sangan were the first searchers ever released in the game, being able to able to both cover almost the entire monster pool at the time with their search effects. Witch of the Black Forest specifically could search out all of a Summoned Skull Beatdown deck’s important monsters as all of the strongest monsters had less than 1500 DEF and so did smaller flip monsters like Man-Eater Bug. Magician of Faith, on the other hand, would see more limited usage as Spells had not yet become the dominant factor in the game. Tribute to the Doomed was also a very widely used card from Metal Raiders at this time as it was the first card in the game that allowed for targeted monster destruction in spell form. Heavy Storm and Mirror Force also got their release in Metal Raiders, both of which landed on the Limited List soon after. The third set of 2002, Magic Ruler (later renamed to Spell Ruler) also brought its own suite of powerful cards that would change the game. While introduced a wide range of powerful Spell cards, there were few of these that had standard usage in the beatdown decks of the time. The only card from Magic Ruler I will go over in regards to the Summoned Skull Beatdown deck is Axe of Despair. Axe of Despair was the first Equip Spell in the game that didn’t have tremendous drawbacks while simultaneously granting a significant bonus to the equipped monster, making it so that non-tribute monsters like La Jinn could beat out Summoned Skull. This was the first true paradigm shift in the strategy of beatdown as Summoned Skull could now be dethroned without having to use destruction cards such as Fissure or Raigeki. The final set of 2002 was Pharaoh’s Servant, a set that introduced only a handful of essential cards for most beatdown decks. On the monster side of things, the set introduced Goblin Attack Force, a card with 2300 ATK that could be summoned without tribute. While it had a drawback, the card was indicative of the attack point power creep that started rapidly occurring in 2002 and early 2003. The other main monster from this set was Jinzo, a monster that stopped all Traps. As the game had continued to grow more and more trap heavy throughout its first year, a card like Jinzo was extremely relevant. Beyond these two monsters, Pharaoh’s Servant also introduced Imperial Order, a continuous trap that negated all Spell effects and could be destroyed almost at will. The combination of Jinzo and Imperial Order, despite both of them getting Limited to 1 almost immediately upon their release, allowed the more monster heavy focus of beatdown to continue to stay relevant into the upcoming format of extremely powerful game-changing spells. However, while it would remain in the meta, the next 2 booster sets would radically alter the cards that beatdown decks would use.
Gemini Elf Beatdown
Even though the first year of the Yu-Gi-Oh! TCG saw a whirlwind of extremely powerful Spells and Traps get released, the humble Summoned Skull Beatdown deck remained relatively unchanged after Metal Raiders aside from a small handful of cards. However, the release of Labyrinth of Nightmare, the first booster set of 2003, would change the base of Beatdown radically. While previous sets had introduced more powerful monsters, they had all had drawbacks to their power in the form of Life Point cost, switching to Defense position, or being tribute monsters. Labyrinth of Nightmare brought about the first objective wide-scale power creep of the monster pool in the game’s history.
This power creep was mainly centered around 3 monsters: Gemini Elf, Bazoo the Soul Eater, and Kycoo the Ghost Destroyer. First off there is Gemini Elf. At first it seems to be yet another step in the escalation of level 4 Normal monsters following Mechanicalchaser. However, Gemini Elf is more notable than Mechanicalchaser because it was both more widely available than Mechanicalchaser was at the time and Gemini Elf heralded the end of the Attack point powercreep until Gene-Warped Warwolf was released 4 years later far past the point where such monsters were relevant to the meta game. Next was Bazoo the Soul-Eater. Bazoo the Soul-Eater is an interesting card as it was particularly powerful in the TCG upon it’s initial release due to a faulty translation. While his effect is supposed to allow the player to banish up to 3 monsters from their Graveyard to give Bazoo 300 ATK for each monster banished this way, the original text allowed for the banishing of any card. This was especially relevant at the time as the only method for recycling spells or traps was Magician of Faith and Mask of Darkness respectively, making these otherwise dead cards in the Graveyard useful for something. Even after his text was fixed, Bazoo still remained a very notable card. Though it came at a cost, Bazoo was the first card that could be normal summoned and have comparable attack to Summoned Skull, the previous benchmark for high attack. This made Summoned Skull considerably less popular as Bazoo was often the better choice due to his versatility and level 4 status.
Finally, Labyrinth of Nightmare brought Kycoo the Ghost Destroyer into the game. While the previous two cards demonstrated distinct powercreep in terms of sheer attacking power, Kycoo was the start of a much larger trend that would define the game going forward: powerful effect monsters. Up to this point, most effect monsters were either slow flip effect monsters, weak monsters with extremely situational effects, or monsters whose only effects were simply conditions and drawbacks on their attack power. Kycoo departed from this trend by being a monster 1800 attack, the previous high benchmark for common play, but also carried a useful effect along with that attack score. This combination made Kycoo an extremely popular choice in many decks of the day and would only become more popular in future formats where the Graveyard held geater importance. Beyond these 3 monsters, Labyrinth of Nightmare brought 2 new Equip Spells into the fray: United We Stand and Mage Power. These two cards were a significant leap from Axe of Despair’s 1000 Attack point boost, allowing for almost any monster to beat any other monster in attack with the right field setup, something unheard before this point.
With these powerful new additions, the Gemini Elf version of Beatdown still focused largely on getting out extremely powerful monsters and using them to quickly defeat their opponent. However, players of the deck started to include more emphasis on spells and traps that would allow them to control the game state better outside of just using monsters. It was also around this time that Beatdown started to really become distinct from the other major deck of the format, Hand Control. While Beatdown was definitely still a powerhouse deck and extremely common, Hand Control’s greater focus on card advantage and maintaining field presence over sheer attack power would push Beatdown further down in the overall metagame that was just beginning to develop at the time.
Where Is It Now
As 2003 went on and more sets were released, each with its own set of extremely powerful effect monsters, the emerging higher levels of play in the TCG would continue to move further and further away from Beatdown as a viable strategy, instead favoring decks that could control the opponent’s resources or pull off powerful combos to win the game. The true nail in the coffin to Beatdown as a meta deck was the release of Invasion of Chaos in early 2004. This set released the infamous Chaos monsters which would form the basis of the meta for the next 2 years. Because Chaos decks required a specific balancing of Light and Dark monsters, Beatdown’s focus on equip spells and high attack points fell behind. In spite of this, Beatdown would remain a popular and semi-viable deck type at local tournaments until the release of competitive archetypes in 2008 spelled the end for directionless decks like beatdown. Due to the nature of powercreep, the banning of most of the key power cards from the early game, and the progression of the game, Beatdown has no real viability or place in the modern game of Yu-Gi-Oh!
I hope you enjoyed this dive into the very first deck type in the history of Yu-Gi-Oh! and watch out for the next deck in the TCG’s history: 2003 Hand Control.