Structure Decks: Then and Now

Doug Zeeff

12/20/2017 11:00:00 AM

Over the past few months on my YouTube channel I've gone back to analyze a lot of the older Structure Decks released throughout the years. Obviously there's been an overall power increase of Structure Decks, but even if you look at the relative time periods that each deck was produced you'll start to realize the design philosophy of Structures was very different for years.

Today, I want to take a look at a few specific Structure Decks to try and figure out what Konami's logic is when printing pre-constructed strategies.

The Original 10
Every single one of the first 10 Structure Decks were released as a pair. Generally speaking, the idea was that two people could each buy a copy of one Structure Deck and then battle it out. From a marketing standpoint, giving each new player a chance to have their own unique deck is a great idea. We've seen this a few times in the past five years as well, but it was the main focus from 2005 through 2007.

For example, one player could use the watery Sea-Serpent monsters from Fury from the Deep, while the other player could use the fiery monsters from Blaze of Destruction. Much like the modern example of Dinosmasher's Fury and Machine Reactor, these two decks hit shelves at the exact same time.

Much like today, those decks were advertised as being tournament ready out the box. Technically speaking, that's correct. However, the older Structure Decks had very few new cards, some of them only having the cover monster as the new addition. The big selling point for these Structure Decks was the plethora of reprints. For example if you take a look at Fury from the Deep, there's a whole bunch of great stuff that could be used in any deck: Tribe-Infecting Virus, Snatch Steal, Heavy Storm, Mystical Space Typhoon, Torrential Tribute, and Call Of The Haunted all made an appearance.

Those Structure Decks often had a loosely defined strategy, but the majority of the time they were just tied together by an attribute or monster-type. That was probably due to the overall card pool at the time, but it's worth noting that we didn't see a whole lot of synergy in any of the early Structure Decks besides a few fringe combos.

Interestingly, the worst card in many of the Structure Decks was actually the cover card. If you look at something like Infernal Flame Emperor you'll get a good idea of what I'm talking about. Many of the boss monsters couldn't be Special Summoned, and when you did manage to summon them their effects were mediocre at best. Even worse, there usually weren't any efficient combos to get them out in the first place, so you often had to resort to just hoping two monsters survived long enough for you to tribute them.

What's funny to me is that a lot of the time when you had two monsters on board you probably didn't want to take the -2 in card economy to make a Tribute Summon anyways. You'd be better off just keeping the two would-be Tributes.

 Divine Sword - Phoenix Blade
Divine Sword - Phoenix Blade24537
Set Structure Deck Warrior's Triumph
Number SD5-EN018
Type Equip Spell
Attribute SPELL 
Rarity Common
Card Text

You can only equip this card to a Warrior-Type monster. Increase the ATK of the equipped monster by 300 points. If this card is in your Graveyard during your Main Phase, by removing from play 2 Warrior-Type monsters from your Graveyard, add this card to your hand.

Store Condition Qty Avail Price  
Pauls Gamerzone 1st Edition - Lightly Played 1 $0.05
GameT1me 1st Edition - Lightly Played 1 $0.11
Epic Gaming 1st Edition - Heavily Played 1 $0.15
Western Ohio Gaming 1st Edition - Lightly Played 1 $0.18
BlackBearSPLBoundSTR 1st Edition - Moderately Played 1 $0.20
Frontline Games 1st Edition - Moderately Played 1 $0.25
Castle Hill GamesLLC 1st Edition - Damaged 1 $0.25
Hideaway Games 1st Edition - Near Mint 1 $0.25
NCGamesnCollectibles 1st Edition - Lightly Played 1 $0.25
Frontline Games 1st Edition - Lightly Played 2 $0.28

So how many new cards were released that had an impact on competition? As far as I can tell, there are only two scenarios where a brand new card made a difference. The first was Divine Sword - Phoenix Blade, an Equip Spell that showed up in almost every Diamond Dude Turbo deck back in the day. The combo with Phoenix Blade involved banishing a bunch of warriors to flood the field with Dimension Fusion, and it was quite effective in 2007.

The second example is all three of the original Gadgets: Red Gadget, Green Gadget, and Yellow Gadget. They appeared in hundreds of tournament topping deck lists for years, and only fell out of favor recently, coinciding with the release of Pendulums.

Other than that though, the first ten Structure Decks were unremarkable. Flashy boss monsters that didn't do anything were commonplace in most of them, and the new cards rarely affected competition. The major selling point of all of them was basically down to the reprints that they included, but even considering that the main people paying for those Structure Decks would have been newer or casual players.

But Then…
It's clear that the original ten Structure Decks weren't competitive. It's also probably well known that the most recent Structure Decks have all been very competitive, which we'll talk about in a second. What's not so clear is the middle area between those two periods. Specifically, I'm looking at all the Structure Decks between Rise of the Dragon Lords and Samurai Warlords.

Why is this set of releases so complicated? Well, because there's no super clear pattern. If you look at Rise of the Dragon Lords Foolish Burial and Trade-In both made their debut. Obviously those are great spells that we still use to this day, but the rest of the deck wasn't impactful. Felgrand Dragon and Darkblaze Dragon were pretty lackluster, and the theme itself wasn't cohesive beyond summoning big monsters.

But the next Structure Deck in the lineup gave us Caius the Shadow Monarch! Finally, a cover card that made a real change on the tournament scene. The Zombie World Structure Deck brings, well, Zombie World, but also Imperial Iron Wall!

And then Konami hit a brick wall and released Spellcaster's Command and Warriors' Strike, two of the worst modern Structure Decks. Spell counters and Gemini monsters simply weren't good enough to build decks around, despite there being a few standouts in those releases, namely Supervise, Hidden Armory, and Defender, the Magical Knight.

Machina Mayhem's an important benchmark for Structure Decks. It's the first time duelists could buy three copies of a Structure and actually have a tournament viable strategy. In terms of good Structure Deck design, Machina Mayhem lays out the two most important elements of success: it had great new cards, and it included powerful reprints. Machina Fortress and Machina Gearframe were new and highly competitive.

 Imperial Iron Wall
Imperial Iron Wall71695
Set Legendary Collection 4: Joey's World
Number LCJW-EN298
Type Trap Card
Monster Trap
Attribute TRAP 
Rarity Ultra Rare
Card Text

Cards cannot be banished.

Store Condition Qty Avail Price  
Monarchy Gaming 1st Edition - Near Mint 1 $0.64
Blue Ox Games 1st Edition - Moderately Played 1 $1.65
Dolly's Toys & Games 1st Edition - Near Mint 1 $1.81
Fusion Gaming 1st Edition - Moderately Played 2 $2.15
ZANGOOSE CARDs 1st Edition - Near Mint 1 $2.35
Gators 1st Edition - Moderately Played 1 $2.38
Fusion Gaming 1st Edition - Lightly Played 1 $2.42
Kapow comics 1st Edition - Moderately Played 1 $2.50
TheCardWard 1st Edition - Near Mint 2 $2.55
Game Nut 1st Edition - Near Mint 1 $2.75

For reprints, you had all three Gadgets, Dimensional Prison, and Compulsory Evacuation Device. Machina Mayhem laid the groundwork for buying a Structure Deck, giving you the chance to add staples from your collection and get your invite at a Regional Qualifier. This philosophy became the gold standard for player expectations, and it's how a lot of current players view Structure Decks.

That design philosophy was repeated with The Lost Sanctuary, Gates of the Underworld, and Dragons Collide. All three warped competition when they came out, and allowed budget players to have access to some of the best rogue cards in the game. And what was really cool about those Structures was that non-budget players could take advantage of them, too. Agents, Dark Worlds, and Chaos Dragons could all be complimented with cards like Tour Guide From the Underworld, Effect Veiler, and full Extra Decks. That meant players of all calibers were encouraged to buy Structure Decks, which was a different situation entirely than the first ten SD releases.

Still, there were plenty of misses during this era. TheDragunity Legion, Marik, and SamuraiWarlords Structure Decks weren't fantastic.Realm of the Sea Emperor required multiple expensive cards fromAbyss Rising to be competitive.Onslaught of the Fire Kings required multiple expensive cards from Cosmo Blazer. This period is seen as such a middleground because Konami never seemed to commit to one style of Structure Decks.

Modern Structure Decks
At some point, though, Konami did make a switch. Starting with Realm of Light – one of the best Structure Decks of all time – Konami started creating insanely powerful Structure Decks. In many cases, strategies created from Structures were the best decks of their respective format, or at least a top contender. Monarchs, Dinosaurs, Lightsworns, HEROes, Pendulum Magicians, and ABC's all held top spots at Regional Qualifiers and Championships.

Besides the competitive edge, what seems to separate modern Structure Decks from older ones is the reprints included. It seems like every time an OCG Structure Deck is announced it comes with some killer reprints, but one or two of them usually doesn't make it into the TCG release. Don't get me wrong: reprints like Twin Twisters, Dimensional Barrier, and Cosmic Cyclone are gladly welcome. But the main focus on these Structure Decks is clearly the new cards in them, and how “broken” they can be.

I don't know if there will ever be a change in Structure Deck design going forward; I'd say that most people like where they are right now. They bring great new cards to the competitive players while giving budget players a chance at competition. At the very least, they give budget players the option to play cards that they can't get without reprints.

Similarly, you're in a much better position now if you entered a tournament with three Dinosmasher's Fury than you would have been entering a tournament with Realm of the Sea Emperor! Structure Decks have come a long way since 2005, and their history shows us tons of insights into Konami's card design philosophy.

If you'd like to hear more about Structure Decks, make sure to check out my YouTube channel !

-Doug Zeeff

Doug Zeeff hails from Michigan and is currently an English major in college. When he's not found emailing Konami about why there's not a single walrus card in all of Yu-Gi-Oh! you can find him regularly posting unorthodox, unfiltered Yu-Gi-Oh! content on his Youtube channel, Dzeeff. In his spare time he enjoys eating cheese, Overwatch, and, of course, playing Yu-Gi-Oh. Click here to follow him and his adventures on Facebook!

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