Johnny Li Discusses F&L List Philosophy

Johnny Li

10/19/2017 11:00:00 AM

Greetings, readers!

For the better part of 2017, Zoodiacs have been the centerpiece of dueling, but as of last month, the Yu-Gi-Oh playerbase is finally able to play Zoo-less games.

The excitement shared by the community over what strategies are possible in a world where Zoodiacs aren't viable has been palpable. It's as if everyone has been interrupted from a deep slumber, delighted to awaken and find that they can build decks again.

All of this was made possible by the September 2017 Forbidden & Limited List. I figured that the release of a new list is as good a time as ever to discuss the philosophy of F&L Lists. Thus, today's article will do just that. I'll discuss the goals of an F&L list, dispel some misconceptions, and analyze how well the September 2017 list achieves those goals.

And just for fun, I'll suggest my own recommendations to further those goals at the very end. Enjoy.

Goals Of The Forbidden & Limited List
What should an ideal F&L list do? That's always been, and always will be, a controversial subject.

Different subsets of the playerbase wish for different things. A Konami shareholder may not want exactly what a competitive player who travels to premier events wants, and that player may not want exactly what the local regular wants. Sometimes, every party benefits from the same decision. For example, putting Zoodiac Drident and Zoodiac Broadbull to zero benefits the shareholder's profitability, the competitive player who wishes to innovate for a deck advantage, and the local regular who wants to play against five different decks at his tournament store, rather than five Zoo decks.

However, not all goals will always benefit all parties. There has to be compromise. As a competitive player who travels, there are certainly some changes I'd love to see to benefit my Yu-Gi-Oh! experience. On the other hand, I acknowledge that these changes would also make the barrier to entry for even just playing the game too high, which would in turn hurt sales and eventually take away the game that I love!

 Pot of Desires
Price N/A
Pot of Desires141277
Set 2017 Mega-Tins
Number CT14-EN004
Type Normal Spell Card
Attribute SPELL 
Rarity Ultra Rare
Card Text

Banish 10 cards from the top of your Deck, face-down; draw 2 cards. You can only activate 1 "Pot of Desires" per turn.

Store Condition Qty Avail Price  
Sparkly sparkles Limited - Near Mint 1 $3.45
Underground Elites Limited - Near Mint 1 $3.71
Buds Place Limited - Lightly Played 2 $3.73
helixs Limited - Lightly Played 1 $3.77
superbrothers Limited - Lightly Played 2 $4.00
Duel Monsters Pro Limited - Near Mint 4 $4.10
CompetitiveCardShack Limited - Near Mint 1 $4.11
Buds Place Limited - Near Mint 2 $4.14
Pastimes Limited - Lightly Played 1 $4.19
Neverland Games Limited - Near Mint 1 $4.22

The goals that I'll outline are my best attempt at a compromise. I draw these goals from the following sources:

-From my casual experience as a former locals-only goer, who wishes for diversity

-From my competitive experience as a traveling premier event player, who wishes for decisions-based match outcomes

-From my corporate experience as a consultant, who understands the needs of multi-million dollar entities

-From explicit statements Konami representatives have made, either in articles or in person, about the goals of the Forbidden & Limited list

Based on these factors, I consider the following the most important goals of a new F&L list:

1. To keep the metagame evolving by eliminating dominant strategies

Although single-deck formats are still formats where considerable evolution and innovation can take place from week to week (see Dragon Rulers 2013), eventually, all metagames reach a point of stagnation. At such a point, it is time to shake things up by eliminating the deck with the highest win percentage and the deck that is most played in order to allow new strategies to fight for the throne.

2. To eliminate individual cards that result in non-interactive games

Sometimes, a card may not define the most dominant strategy, but it may determine the outcome of far too many games, regardless of what strategy it's used in. The most complained about examples are ones that force players to play the game we call, “Better Have It” - where a player is rewarded with victory simply for drawing a card, and the opponent not opening with an answer to that card.

3. To increase the percentage of games that are determined by decisions in either deck building or technical play

A common thread that weaves through nearly every format immediately following a change in the F&L list is that players' decisions determine the outcome of games again. The goal is for games to not be determined by who went first, or who drew X key card in a mirror match in a stagnant format, or whether a choice in a 50/50 guess scenario was correct.

4. To prevent the possibility of a particularly nasty future card interaction that greatly restricts duels

Because we always know the majority of future releases in advance, we can anticipate future problems and prevent them from ever occurring through changes on the F&L list. One example of this was when Morphing Jar was Forbidden before the release of Jackpot 7.

5. To shorten the existing F&L list as much as possible

This goal has been expressed by Konami's TCG R&D department in past articles. By keeping the F&L list short, the number of rules that players must memorize decreases. That lowers the barrier to entry for newer players, who are likely to be overwhelmed by all the restrictions and mechanics they must learn.

6. To promote the sale of future product

Power creep, or the progression of power from older strategies to newer ones, sometimes needs to be helped along by the F&L list. It's necessary that power creep takes place in the Advanced Format, or else the game would stop selling and our beloved hobby would be no more.

7. To expand the virtual card pool

I created this seventh criterion because I realized that an example I had in mind didn't entirely fit into the first six. If the literal card pool were, say, 8000 cards, that information alone would not tell us how many of those 8000 are truly viable options in deckbuilding. Is The Monarchs Stormforth at 0, 1, 2, or 3? Hundreds, or even thousands, of cards may be eliminated from the virtual card pool, depending on the answer to that question. Thus, another goal of the F&L list should be to keep the virtual card pool wide.

Common Misconceptions
Season after season, I see the same misconceptions lead people into making false conclusions about the impact of a new F&L list. When a new list is in effect, everyone wants to be able to predict what will happen next. This information is valuable to players, who wish to succeed in the new format, as well as to card dealers, who wish to make the right investments. Since it would be impractical to identify all of these misconceptions, I will address what are by far the two most common.

1. Players overestimate the impact of a single change to help a deck

Year after year, the masses assume that because individual cards were released from Forbidden or Limited status, or that the best deck was hit, that it meant certain engines would be viable again. That's sometimes the case, but most often not. Be wary of committing the following errors in thought:

-Not recognizing the problem with a deck. When Destiny Draw returned to 3, players attempted to revive Destiny Hero-based engines. That fruitless use of time and money could have been avoided, had players considered the real problem with the Destiny Draw engine to begin with. It wasn't a lack of Destiny Draws, but power creep itself, that made the engine unviable. Making a low-powered engine more consistent wouldn't address that problem. Another example of this undeserved hype occurred with Blackwings, Lightsworn, and Six Samurai, when Kalut, Lumina, and Smoke Signal were unlimited in March of 2013.

 Destiny Draw
Destiny Draw81197
Set Duel Terminal 3
Number DT03-EN095
Type Spell Card
Attribute SPELL 
Rarity Common
Card Text

Discard 1 "Destiny Hero" card. Draw 2 cards.

Store Condition Qty Avail Price  
316 Collectibles Limited - Heavily Played 1 $0.65
CoreTCG Limited - Near Mint 21 $0.79
Pozjoker Games Limited - Near Mint 1 $0.99
Duelist Academy Limited - Near Mint 12 $0.99
Ron's Comic World Limited - Moderately Played 1 $1.18
Dolly's Toys & Games Limited - Lightly Played 1 $1.19
GameTimeCC Limited - Lightly Played 1 $1.27
Gators Limited - Lightly Played 2 $1.31
One Up TCG Limited - Near Mint 16 $1.32
Dolly's Toys & Games Limited - Near Mint 6 $1.32

-Not recognizing the relative position of the deck in question. It's not enough if the deck in the first position is hit. It's not enough even if the deck in the first three positions are hit. With rare exception, a weak deck will still be a weak deck after a new F&L list. Perhaps the most classic example of that is Gladiator Beast. After its prime, players – I myself am guilty – returned to GBs every time there was a new list. That continued far longer than it should have. The one principle to remember here is that just because the best deck is no longer viable does not mean that anything is possible .

To cite an example more relevant to 2017, a lot of hype surrounded Trickstars with the recent list. Investing time or practice into the deck is unwise, and something that can be avoided if players think about what the real issue with Trickstars is: did Zoodiacs really keep them out of a leading competitive position, or did the inherent problems with the engine keep them from achieving that? My recommendation is to make it a practice to ask that type of question about any deck you consider following a drastic change in the competitive landscape.

2. Players underestimate the impact of a single change to hurt a deck

This second misconception addresses the opposite scenario of the first, where players misjudge how much or how little a change can hurt a deck. Konami misjudges this as well, as evidenced in how they sometimes under-restrict the engine they're trying to hurt (Zoodiacs), or overkill a deck with more limitations than necessary (Wind-Ups).

Understanding whether a change is make-or-break comes with understanding what aspect of a deck is really centralizing competition. In the case of Zoodiacs, I saw many people including Zoodiac Barrage on their wishlist of cards to hit. But is an extra summon really what put the deck over the top? If you think about it, Barrage didn't serve a substantially different role from Shuffle Reborn, Enemy Controller, My Body as a Shield, and so on in Zoodiac Decks.

No, the actual problem with the deck was Zoodiac Drident. That card, like The Monarchs Stormforth last year, singlehandedly determined that entire decks couldn't be played. It doesn't matter that Barrage got the follow-up Drident, or allowed you to push through a Drident, or let you revive a Drident. The problem was Drident. Until Drident was dealt with, it should not have been safe to assume that the deck was done for.

When the first Dragon Ruler format was drawing to a close, and the next F&L list that would Forbid all of the baby dragons was known, a player asked me, “What are you going to do in September after they kill your precious deck?” Why, I was going to continue playing Dragon Rulers, of course. While many tried to switch to decks like Blackwing, Mermail, Geargia, and other rogue strategies, the fact remained that there were still twelve monsters you could include in your deck that each had in essence three effects, a large body, the same Levels, and tremendous synergy. That example serves to illustrate that as many as four or more cards in an engine can be Forbidden and it still won't dethrone a top strategy. The question to bear in mind is what a deck really depends on to keep its dominant position.

Sometimes Konami makes meaningless adjustments to the quantity of a card, without realizing that the card's existence, not its legal quantity (1, 2, or 3), is what makes it powerful. When Infernity Barrier went to 1, my friends and I joked, “This sounds less like they want to stop Infernity, and more like they want to teach everyone the correct ratios to play in Infernity.” Similar jokes were cracked about Elder Entity Norden.

One final factor to consider when it comes to misjudging the impact of a list is the rubber band effect that takes place in response to a list change. Players will adapt if there is room to adapt, so the question is how adaptive can an engine be? An example where this question was relevant involved Burning Abyss in light of the August 2016 list. Beatrice and Cir may have gone to one-per-deck, but were the second copies of those cards really the extent of its potential? BA thrived on flexibilty, and sure enough, it won ARG Oklahoma right after that list dropped anyways.

On the other hand, Monarchs and Kozmos also had cards go to 1, but those cards – stuff like Pantheism of the Monarchs and Kozmo Dark Destroyer – didn't leave any room for a rubber band effect. Nothing Monarchs could do could adjust for a lack of multiple Pantheisms, any more than anything Kozmo could do could adjust for a lack of multiple Dark Destroyers. There was no redundancy to fall back on.

When asking whether a deck is really made viable or really put out of commission by a particular change on the list, consider all the matters that have been discussed in this section.

The September 2017 Forbidden/Limited List
And now, to evaluate the September 2017 list!

To 0:
Daigusto Emeral - This was long overdue. The card's been used almost exclusively in strategies intended to be one-sided since it was released.

Denglong, First of the Yang Zing - I could take it or leave it, but I suppose it fulfills goal #4.

Dinomight Knight, the True Dracofighter - Goal #1, 6, and 7.

Grandsoil the Elemental Lord - Goal #4, primarily.

True King Lithosagym, the Disaster - This was an odd choice to me. While Lithosagym is above the proverbial Jedi curve of card power levels, it doesn't strike me as substantial enough to warrant Forbidding, or even Limiting.

Zoodiac Broadbull - This change serves multiple goals. Even if all other Zoodiacs were gone, this card must go to 0 in order to satisfy goal #4. It enables too many degenerate strategies.

Zoodiac Drident - Goal #1 primarily, and possibly the single most predictable pick for the List along with Broadbull.

To 1:
Ignis Heat, the True Dracowarrior - I believe this decision was made out of a trigger-happy attempt to curb the influence of True Dracos. However, it's hitting the wrong card. Ignis is very much balanced out by the fact that it's blank when you draw it and you're going first.

Miscellaneousaurus - A Lonefire Blossom with a handtrap effect. A necessary Limiting.

Zoodiac Ratpier - This card serves as one of the stand-out exceptions to what I said earlier about trying to adjust the quantities of a card when the problem is a card's very existence. In the case of Ratpier, its power lay in exactly how many could be played - the opposite of cards like Infernity Barrier, Norden, and Drident.

Dark Hole - Unneeded, but also inconsequential.

Gateway of the Six - I think this change is on the risky side. While it serves to expand the virtual card pool, goal #7, it puts goal #4 at jeopardy with a potential future interaction.

 Gateway of the Six
Gateway of the Six33726
Set Stardust Overdrive
Number SOVR-EN089
Type Spell Card
Monster Spell
Attribute SPELL 
Rarity Super Rare
Card Text

Each time a Six Samurai monster is Normal or Special Summoned, place 2 Bushido Counters on this card. You can remove Bushido Counters from your side of the field to apply the following effects. - 2 Counters: Until the End Phase of this turn, 1 face-up Six

Store Condition Qty Avail Price  
MTGFirst Unlimited - Lightly Played 1 $0.50
Han Perfect Cards Unlimited - Lightly Played 1 $0.50
TheCardWard Unlimited - Moderately Played 1 $0.50
TheCardWard Unlimited - Lightly Played 2 $0.50
TggChicago Unlimited - Lightly Played 1 $0.50
XFMSports Unlimited - Moderately Played 1 $0.50
Gamer's Gauntlet YGO Unlimited - Lightly Played 1 $0.50
Buis Card Place Unlimited - Lightly Played 1 $0.50
links trading cards Unlimited - Lightly Played 2 $0.54
SKYAThatOneGuy Unlimited - Lightly Played 1 $0.54

Interrupted Kaiju Slumber - This card is self-regulating in that it requires you to run several subpar cards and have a certain number of copies in your deck just to activate it. This would have been fine left at 3.

True King's Return - The True Draco cards are no doubt good; each has three effects. However, Heritage is the card to worry about. Without Dinomight Return is fine at 3.

To 2:
Black Luster Soldier - Envoy of the Beginning
Brionac, Dragon of the Ice Barrier
Luster Pendulum, the Dracoslayer
T.G. Hyper Librarian
Brain Control
Burial from a Different Dimension
El Shaddoll Fusion
Preparation of Rites

I won't remark on these cards individually, but say in summary that Konami has a tendency to test the waters with cards they intend to remove from the List entirely by first putting them to 2. That's in line with goal #6. If changes are made too suddenly, a potential oversight could unnecessarily hurt sales. These cards can and likely will go to 3 on a future List.

To 3:
Debris Dragon
Rescue Cat
Rescue Rabbit
Summoner Monk
Witch of the Black Forest
Charge of the Light Brigade
Dragon Ravine
Wavering Eyes

These changes were all understandable, as power creep and the recent rule changes have rendered many of these cards no longer playable. Yes, even Wavering Eyes is no longer a good card. Its former strength lay in the fact that it searched Monkeyboard, which turned into both of your Pendulum Scales. Although Jeff Jones won the Orlando UDS with 3 Wavering Eyes mained, he was clear in his statement that the card's use was a concession to the mirror match and nothing more.

Dragon Ravine and Charge of the Light Brigade to 3 are both changes that will only improve the consistency of decks that are currently popular at a more casual level, while possessing the potential to one day impact higher levels of competition.

Additional Recommendations
So here are the changes I would have implemented, had I full control over the F&L list myself. I already know from past articles I will get a lot of heat for my views, but I'm fully convinced that the drastic changes I suggest would have a lot less impact on the game than people realize. Again, I think the dissent comes in large part from those who think according to the misconceptions I outlined in today's discussion.

I'm an advocate for a short F&L List, and I believe it's very much possible to have a short List without significantly affecting competitive play. I'm also an advocate of no Semi-Limited category. I do believe the category has its use, specifically for cards like Zoodiac Ratpier, where the exact number of legal copies determines the strength of the card. But at this time, I don't think any card needs such a restriction. Reckless Greed would be the first card, if any, I would put in that category.

To 0:
Beatrice, Lady of the Eternal
Chain Material
Daigusto Emeral
Imperial Order
Jowgen the Spiritualist
Life Equalizer
Master Peace, the True Dracoslaying King
Nekroz of Unicore
Ojama Trio
One Day of Peace
Royal Magical Library
Shooting Quasar Dragon
T.G. Hyper Librarian
Zoodiac Broadbull
Zoodiac Drident

To 1:
Ancient Fairy Dragon
Anti-Spell Fragrance
Artifact Sanctum
Card of Demise
Chain Strike
Dante, Traveler of the Burning Abyss
Dragonic Diagram
Firewall Dragon
Gozen Match
Infernity Necromancer
Instant Fusion
Performapal Monkeyboard
Rivalry of Warlords

To 3:
Artifact Moralltach
Atlantean Dragoons
Book of Moon
Bottomless Trap Hole
Brain Control
Brionac, Dragon of the Ice Barrier
Burial from a Different Dimension
Butterfly Dagger - Elma
Card Trooper
Charge of the Light Brigade
Cir, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss
Compulsory Evacuation Device
Dark Armed Dragon
Dark Hole
Debris Dragon
Deep Sea Diva
Divine Wind of Mist Valley
Dragon Ravine
Elder Entity Norden
Ignister Prominence, the Blasting Dracoslayer
Infernity Barrier
Interrupted Kaiju Slumber
Inzektor Dragonfly
Luster Pendulum, the Dracoslayer
Maxx "C"
Mind Control
Neo-Spacian Grand Mole
Night Assailant
Preparation of Rites
Spellbook of Judgment
Summoner Monk
Symbol of Heritage
The Tyrant Neptune
Thunder King Rai-Oh
Tribe-Infecting Virus
Upstart Goblin
Wall of Revealing Light
Wavering Eyes
Wind-Up Carrier Zenmaity
Wind-Up Magician
Witch of the Black Forest
Zoodiac Ratpier

It would be excessive to explain each of these choices individually, so I'll make a few sweeping statements. First, there are certain cards whose good effects are easily checked by the mere fact that they're Normal Summoned monsters. Whether it's Mathematician, Deep Sea Diva, Card Trooper, Tribe-Infecting Virus and so on, the very fact that the price of the Normal Summon has become so expensive in exchange for a monster has rendered these cards fine at 3.

Think about it this way: Denko Sekka's at 3, and gives you better value for your Normal Summon than just about every monster on the F&L list.

Second, many of these cards are long overdue for freedom simply because their effects aren't even good anymore, regardless of cost. Whether it's Metamorphosis, Rekindling, Grand Mole, or the Wind-Ups, these cards – for whatever reason – are being rolled out super slowly. I find it unlikely they will remain limited for good. Anything broken that you try to come up with for the overdue cards simply requires you to run too many bad cards in a bad deck to pull off.

Third, there are certain cards that should never have been hit to begin with because they were never good. Butterly Dagger - Elma was Forbidden to prevent a combo that never would have existed. If you ask around, the average duelist will cite some sort of Gearfried Exodia deck as the reason for Elma's ban, but in reality, there was no format where the strategy was ever viable leading up to its restriction. In any case, the real problem with that strategy is not Elma, but rather Royal Magical Library, which has only ever been used in degenerate decks. Another example is Necroface. There was never ever any point in time where the card was competitively viable.

Fourth, all fifteen cards that I'd Forbid are used with the intent to remove interaction from duels.

Fifth, I put Upstart Goblin back to 3. This was the decision I deliberated most. On one hand, one could argue that it takes away from deckbuilding skill because it gives players three fewer decisions to make with their decks. On the other hand, it rewards players who use all three copies over those who do not use any for testing to the point that they identified the worst three cards in their deck, while also punishing those who use all three copies but didn't test adequately. That perspective is the reason I ultimately think that it would favor skill to bring the card back to 3.

Thanks everyone for reading! My articles are almost always inspired by questions from readers, so please feel free to share your thoughts and queries down in the Comments. Stay tuned for more articles in the near future.

-Johnny Li

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