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My Time With Yu-Gi-Oh!

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This past week the gaming community at large was rocked by the sudden and unexpected news of the passing of a legend in the scene. Kazuki Takahashi, the legendary creator of Yu-Gi-Oh! passed away during a snorkeling incident. The reaction and mourning from the gaming community was loud and swift. Today I wanted to pay my respects by reflecting on what the game brought me and the ways it deeply impacted my gaming life growing up in the early 2000s.

Sliver Queen
Multani, Maro-Sorcerer

In 1999 I discovered the Pokemon trading card game as a result of the greater Pokemon craze. The video games were hot fire and the cards turned out to be no different. It soon got me to discover Magic as well when my cousin noticed that the two games played similarly. I played Pokemon Leagues and got together with friends to play as well, and mostly played Magic with my sibling at the kitchen table. It was a simpler time where I was younger and wasn't very competitive. As time went on, though, I fell out of Pokemon as the hype died down, and I also played Magic less as well. I barely remember much of the Invasion block and some of the Odyssey block as a result of this.

Around this time there was a glut of different kinds of card games coming out as well, largely trying to ride the hype of the Pokemon craze. I played Digimon, Dragonball Z, Harry Potter, Duel Monsters (aka Kaijudo), Young Jedi, and was exposed to many others as well that I never got to try out. Many of these were based on popular properties of the time that were spawning largely out of various television networks like Fox Kids, Kids WB, Nickelodeon, and Cartoon Network. In late 2001, however, there was a series that captured the imaginations of myself and the youth of my time. That series was Yu-Gi-Oh!

Yu-Gi-Oh! was a show about card games, and it ruled. It was like the distillation of all of these various games that we'd all been playing into a form that had great characters and a unique story. Some series were trying it in similar manners, such as Digimon and Duel Masters, which prominently featured card game elements to them. While fun, none of them captured the zeitgeist like the show about this spiky haired kid traveling to Duelist Kingdom to try and save his grandpa.

I had no idea just how much this franchise would take over my life for the couple years that followed. Within a few short months, the card game reached the shelves. I'll never forget going to the store and my sibling and I buying one of each of Starter Deck Yugi and Starter Deck Kaiba. We all went to a restaurant for some food and the moment we got to the table we quickly started to open our decks, look through the cards, and get to gaming. It didn't take long, as many of the core elements were the same as the show - even if there were some major rules differences, like the necessity for tributes and the like.

While we'd played many games before then, there was just something truly special about Yu-Gi-Oh! in those early days. Maybe it was the hype from the show, maybe it was the game itself, but whatever the case we fell in love fast. Soon we were playing every day after school, buying packs, and getting deeper and deeper into it. I still remember buying my first packs of Metal Raiders at a Target and how awesome it was opening a Garnecia Elefantis or the time a few months later when my sibling cracked a Blue-Eyes Toon Dragon from their first Magic Ruler booster.

In just a few short months, the fever hit our schools as well. Where most of the games beyond Pokemon and on occasion Magic never really took off, everyone was quickly hooked on Yu-Gi-Oh! We were trading before class, meeting up in classrooms at lunch to jam games, and getting together at one another's houses. Every new release brought new strategies, and with it whispers of how cards could interact with one another. We all started trying new things and attempting to one-up each other. We were too young to really understand what a metagame was or what the real competitive atmosphere looked like, so we just did the best we could and had a great time day after day. The game got so big in our school we even started hosting an after-school club dedicated to card games, which by that point was basically Yu-Gi-Oh! and the occasional game of Magic.

But the fever was just catching hold. Video games were also starting to really pour out. I remember my first time trying games like Dark Duel Stories or The Eternal Duelist Soul from friends and family members who had picked up the titles. Eventually I was able to get Worldwide Edition and that's where the grind really began. I played game after game, tried deck after deck, and learned strategy after strategy. It was one of the first times I really got this sort of experience playing a card game so hardcore and in-depth. I did also play and grind the Playstation game Forbidden Memories, but it's a completely different experience that was developed while Konami attempted to figure out how the game's rules even worked.

The end of that year saw another revelation: Shonen Jump. The monthly manga series came to US shores at the tail end of 2002, and it was then that my mom bought me a copy of the second ever issue because she saw Yu-Gi-Oh! on it. This is another way Yu-Gi-Oh! influenced me growing up, as it got me into this whole new medium and world of stories. It was here I truly got to see Kazuki Takahashi's world first hand, seeing his style and characters poured onto the page. These stories were darker and different, playing on gaming in general and not just card games. In fact, the card games barely showed up until much later on.

Reading this series and these magazines did more for me than provide entertainment from these stories. They also influenced my art style growing up when I was learning to draw a lot more in my spare time - an influence that I continue to say in my drawings today. More than that, though, were the details the books provided on the latest cards for the physical card game. We'd get our first teasers of the hot new cards, get unique promos, and learn about the hottest strategies. I'd read about similar things with Pokemon and Magic cards in magazines like Scrye and Inquest, but it never felt like it was striking the iron hot with my friends and I quite the way Yu-Gi-Oh! did.

What's more, this was also the early days of the internet. Actual websites were starting to form. We were moving from sites like Geocities and Angelfire - places rife with the latest playground rumors like Pokemon's Pokegods or getting the triforce in Ocarina of Time. You started to see actual resources popping up where you could run a Google search and find decklists, ban lists, set release info, and more that hadn't really come about with most of the competing games thus far. This was where we started to really hone our strategies and really began to improve as players.

It was soon after that the release of the game World Championship 2004 came out. What's more, a tournament was announced for it at our local Toys-R-Us. My friends grinded out booster packs, battles, and more to find the perfect decks. We would get out link cables and play at lunch and get in as many reps as we could. The day came and the event was a nightmare. Cards in Yu-Gi-Oh! weren't outright banned at the time and were merely limited or semi-limited (basically allowing one-of or two-of instead of three), yet when we came to this event we suddenly had a ban list. Every player had to make a new deck on the spot and play with that. To make matters worse, there was no bracket system and star chips were used instead. I ended up coming in second place, and it felt like a deeply crushing defeat.

Around that time, I stopped playing Yu-Gi-Oh! so much. Within that last year or so I'd started to pick up Magic again as well with the same groups of friends I had started to play Yu-Gi-Oh! with. Not only that, but the fiery competitive spirit that had been born in me as a result of picking up that game was taking over in Magic as well. Gone were those days of playing casually at the kitchen table and instead I was discovering my first FNMs and release events at a local shop as well as playing Magic Online. While I still played some Yu-Gi-Oh! on the side, my friends became much more interested in Magic as I entered high school instead.

So, I left Yu-Gi-Oh! largely on the sidelines. I still played it once in a while with my youngest brother and went to a shop where I played Magic once or twice to play with him. I even tried picking the game up once again at the same time that I returned to Magic in college, as there was one group playing that and another playing Yu-Gi-Oh! I figured if I was getting into one, I should try the other as well. Sadly, it didn't work out, and I ended up just going all in on Magic instead.

My time with Yu-Gi-Oh! may be long over now, but for a brief period of time, it had a major influence on my life. It put me on the path of being that competitive card gamer that I am today. Without it, I may not have had the drive to play Magic at the level that I do. I also might not have gotten to experience several wonderful stories along the way, from the anime that fueled my preteen afternoons to the manga that I'd read on the bus every day. Even now, I still find myself opening up an old Game Boy Advance and dusting off my copy of World Championship 2004 to re-experience those old times once again.

I may never have known Kazuki Takahashi myself, but there's no doubt that he touched my life deeply with his work. Many others just like me have expressed the same thing over the past week, sharing tales of their history of the game even if they no longer play it or enjoy it the way they used to. The profound effect this game and series has had on each and every one of our lives simply can't be overstated. So, thanks, Mr. Takahashi. Thanks for all those great times and great memories over all those years.

Paige Smith

Twitter: @TheMaverickGal

Twitch: twitch.tv/themaverickgirl

YouTube: TheMaverickGal

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