Yata-Garasu. The name itself is iconic, and for good reason. This little bird, with its mere 200 ATK, is the reason the Forbidden List exists. Back in 2004, Konami banned Yata-Garasu for its role in the infamous Chaos-Yata Lock: after clearing the field and hands with Chaos Emperor Dragon – Envoy of the End, and searching Yata with a previously summoned/set Sangan or Witch of the Black Forest, the little bird’s attacks would repeatedly peck an opponent to death. This was death by a thousand cuts, with no ability to ever draw into a reprieve. Yata has never been legal for a single format since. Yet despite all this, Yata-Garasu would see no serious competitive play if unbanned today.
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Yata-Garasu in Modern Yu-Gi-Oh!
Obviously, Yata-Garasu is far from the only terror of early Yugioh that is now competitively irrelevant. Dark Hole, United We Stand, and Mirror Force, for example, all accompanied Yata on the inaugural TCG banlist. All three are Unlimited today, seeing little to no play. Like these three once-powerful cards, the game has simply passed Yata by. Its strengths have been diminished by changes to the framework of competitive Yugioh, while its drawbacks have been greatly magnified.
Three primary factors contribute to the modern irrelevance of Yata-Garasu. Its effect involves the Battle Phase, thus limiting its versatility and making it a dead draw on Turn 1. It is a “winmore” card within the context of modern Yugioh, as it does not contribute to the win condition of any deck, making bad hands worse and only serving to enhance hands that are already good. Finally, and most damning, the Spirit monster clause- players cannot Special Summon Yata-Garasu. Let’s analyze all three of these drawbacks in turn.
Yata-Garasu and the Battle Phase
Former NAWCQ champion Patrick Hoban wrote, “Cards that get effects when they inflict battle damage are subpar.” Hoban referred to the fact that cards like Yata rely on the opponent in order to provide value, rather than on the player themselves. Yata’s effect provides value only if the opponent cannot stop it from successfully attacking and dealing damage. The card does nothing by itself to help one’s plays or further one’s win condition.
This reliance on battle to provide value further harms Yata’s viability by rendering it useless if drawn Turn 1. As the player going first cannot access the Battle Phase, Yata is essentially a dead card in any opening hand. The monster, therefore, does not synergize with decks that go first. Pilots seeking success at competitive tournaments in modern Yugioh cannot afford a wasted slot on a card that does nothing to achieve their win condition and is an active hindrance when drawn going first.
Good Hands, Bad Hands, and Yata-Garasu
“Winmore” is a trading card game term for cards that make good hands better, but bad hands worse. Yata-Garasu is a winmore card in modern competitive Yugioh.
As we’ve covered, Yata relies on the Battle Phase to provide value. In other words, Yata relies on other cards available to the player in order to be good. Any hand with Yata-Garasu essentially contains one fewer card for board breaking.
Any hand that breaks a board and lets Yata attack does so in spite of Yata’s presence, not because of it. These hands have already played themselves into a likely winning position on their own merits. Admittedly, some occasions will exist where Yata is the perfect capstone to ensure the opponent cannot come back. This results-oriented thinking ignores sound deckbuilding principles. There will be far more cases where a duelist would be better off with a card capable of contributing to breaking a board in hand rather than Yata. Thus, Yata is winmore, only working well in conjunction with hands already capable of clearing a path of attack. It actively worsens hands incapable of breaking a board.
“This card cannot be Special Summoned”
It’s an oft-repeated phrase that in modern Yugioh, Special Summons have become the norm, while Normal Summons are now special. While it is true that Special Summons are far more common than in Yata’s day, the Normal Summon is still highly relevant. Cards such as Aleister the Invoker and Souleating Oviraptor remain strong Normal Summons in the current format.
In the previous section, we discussed Yata-Garasu‘s winmore card status. A significant aspect of Yata’s winmore status is its inability to be Special Summoned. Any deck Attempting Yata’s effect must not only clear the opponent’s board while effectively down a card, but also without using their Normal Summon.
Somewhere between 2004 and now, Special Summons passed Normal Summons as the driving force behind tempo in Yugioh. The Normal Summon, however, remains extremely important. Practically all competitively viable decks from the past few years need their Normal Summon. In the swifter modern era of Yugioh, decks simply lack the luxury of running a card that forces them to consistently forgo their Normal Summon to return any value. Combined with the fact that Yata only makes already good hands better while making bad hands worse, and does little outside the Battle Phase, it’s clear that Yata-Garasu would be an irrelevant monster in the modern metagame.
So Yata should be unbanned, right?
I recognize that this runs completely contrary to the overall tone of this article so far, but by no means should Yata-Garasu be unbanned, at this or any time (assuming no erratas). Two reasons exist for why the card cannot be allowed to roam free: its degeneracy and lack of future proofing.
Yata is a “degenerate” card in the same manner as inconsistent FTK decks like Six Samurai. It is not good, and it will not consistently perform well at events. However, Yata’s effect allows players to randomly “steal” wins at events similar to inconsistent FTKs, in such a manner that allows the opponent no chance at fighting back. This creates an unfun, high-variance environment within tournaments.
Yata is also not effectively future proofed. Its design is potentially abusable in the future, similar to Snake Rain. Cards like Shinobaron Peacock already exist that could potentially mitigate its drawbacks and create a legitimately viable Yata deck. While Shinobirds, the most likely deck to utilize a legal Yata-Garasu, suffer from other flaws that would keep them out of the metagame, there is nothing preventing Konami from creating better Spirit support capable of abusing Yata. A legal Yata-Garasu restricts future card design, and thus provides another reason to keep the bird banned.
Iconic, Irrelevant, Hopefully Remaining Illegal
Hopefully, Konami still remembers the reasons behind Yata-Garasu‘s original banning. True, it does not synergize with modern decks and does not provide enough power to consistently meet the minimum threshold. The bird nevertheless remains an absurdly degenerate card that will hopefully never return to Yugioh.
If Yata does someday return, however, sans errata… the world will not end. It will steal the occasional game. It will make the format slightly less fun and more high variance by its inclusion. In the absence of a deck that can synergize with Yata while overcoming its flaws, though, it will not be competitively viable.
If Konami released a card with an effect as powerful as Yata’s today, but saddled it with an inability to be Special Summoned, a reliance on inflicting battle damage to activate its effect, and a lack of synergy with competitive decks, it would rightfully be discarded as an unthreatening gimmick. Yata-Garasu was the terror of Yugioh in 2004. In 2020, it is an irrelevant shadow of its former self.