Not every anime has characters that play card games on motorcycles. But as unique as the some of the various Yu-Gi-Oh spinoffs were and how they featured dominant duelists such as Jaden, Yusei, Zane, and Jack, at one time there was only the original Yu-Gi-Oh that people enjoyed. Over the span of 5 seasons, Yugi and his friends dueled many opponents who were either trying to take over the world or had their personal reasons for doing something that threatened it. Along the way, Yugi became the best duelist in the world, earning the title “King of Games”. But is he really deserving of that title?
No one is saying that Yugi isn’t a great duelist by any means; he’s certainly one of the best. But the plot of the show resulted in Yugi’s deck being very situational, containing many cards that only applied to one specific duel and were never used again. A deck based around cards like that is never consistent enough to win; the only reason why it works for Yugi is because he’s the main character of his own show. So who’s really the best duelist? Who really has the best deck, the best knowledge of the game, and the best win record? A fair amount of duelists in the original Yu-Gi-Oh have a legitimate claim to make in regards to being the best. Here are the top 10 duelists in Yu-Gi-Oh.
The last king of Atlantis over 10,000 years ago, Dartz and his people were threatened by the power of the Orichalcos that came from falling meteors. While the Orichalcos at first gave the people of Atlantis power, it soon began having devastating effects on those with evil in their hearts. As Dartz tried to save his people, he soon came corrupted by a belief where only by reviving a being called the Great Leviathan to destroy the world could a new one free of evil be created. Dartz’ plan eventually results in Yami Yugi and Kaiba dueling together in order to beat him and saving the world. While Dartz’ deck uses a unique strategy of negating his opponents attack and strengthening his monsters as a result, we only see him get to duel once. Maybe if we had seen him duel more, perhaps we could have confirmed how consistent his deck really was but as it stands, Dartz is certainly a cut above most of the other duelists.
9. Mai Valentine
A lone wolf at first, Mai Valentine enters the series as someone who will do whatever it takes to get ahead, whether it’s by her looks, cheating, or both. After meeting Yugi and his friends at Duelist Kingdom, however, Mai begins to have a change of heart, knowing what it’s like to have friends for the very first time on her life. Unfortunately, due to the torture she endures at the hands of Yami Marik in the Battle City Tournament, Mai ends up going down a dark road until Joey helps redeem her at the end of the series. Mai’s deck throughout the series is based around Harpie Lady and the proper support for it. Even though she doesn’t have the strongest deck, Mai is skilled enough to make both the final four in the Duelist Kingdom Tournament and the quarterfinals in the Battle City Tournament, cementing her as one of the show’s top duelists.
8. Bakura Ryou/Yami Bakura
A schoolmate of Yugi and his friends, Bakura has a central role in regard to the main plot of the show due to his reoccurring role as a secondary antagonist until becoming the final antagonist in the last season. While Bakura is a kind-hearted soul who cares about his friends, his Millennium Ring houses an Egyptian spirit known as Bandit King Bakura that lived in the same time period that Yami Yugi did. This dark spirit, also known as Yami Bakura, takes over Bakura’s body multiple times in order to enact his plans of obtaining all 7 Millennium items. Yami Bakura’s dueling skills are impressive, best evidenced by making the quarterfinals in the Battle City Tournament as well as his duels with Kaiba and Yami Yugi in the final season. His deck, however, mainly relies on locking his opponent down while trying to win through other means besides brute force, resulting in disaster if he fails to lock his opponent down. Despite this tactic as well as only recording a low number of duels, Bakura’s skills are impressive in regards to the other duelists in the show.
7. Noah Kaiba
The biological son of Gozaburo Kaiba, Noah was raised very much like Seto was until he was severely injured in a car accident at the young age of 10. In a desperate attempt to save him, Gozaburo placed Noah’s mind into a supercomputer, which Noah enjoyed at first until lack of human contact and bugs in the system slowly stunted his maturity to remain as that of a young boy. Eventually, Noah wants to escape the virtual world by taking over someone’s body, and sets Seto as his target in order to prove to Gozaburo that he is the true heir to the Kaiba Corporation. Like some of the others on this list, Noah has few duels to truly base his skill upon; however, in the few duels that we do see him, we see a lot of potential. Noah is able to beat Seto in a duel using a rather deck based around the creation of Earth, and his duel with Yugi is based around Spirits and rapidly replenishing his life points, something that is very effective and forces Yugi to win in one turn in order to beat him. Had Noah dueled more using the Spirit deck, he could potentially have had a legit claim to being the absolute best.
6. Maximillion Pegasus
The president of Industrial Illusions as well as the creator of the modern version of Duel Monsters, Pegasus certainly knows the ins and outs of dueling. It’s soon revealed in his duel with Kaiba just how many cards he possesses that were never released to the public, and his Toon deck proves to be too much for Seto, making Pegasus one of the few character to ever beat him. Pegasus’ possession of the Millennium Eye gives him an unfair advantage by reading his opponent’s mind and seeing what cards they have in their hand in addition to robbing people of their souls. However, it soon comes to light that his schemes for collecting the Millennium items and taking over Kaiba’s company were all an attempt to bring back his lover Cecilia, and it takes his defeat at the hands of Yugi to transform him from bad guy to good guy. Pegasus is defeated by other characters later on in the series; however, the mastery he displays in his duels with Yugi and Seto earn him the right to be among the best.
5. Marik Ishtar/Yami Marik
The heir to the Tomb Keepers whose job is to guard the tomb of the Pharaoh. Marik’s resentment toward his destiny and the Pharaoh in conjunction with the Millennium Rod results in the creation of his alter ego, Yami Marik. Marik eventually rejects his clan’s purpose, instead deciding to freely explore the world and take control of it. Once he learns of the Pharaoh’s return, however, Marik wants nothing more than to take out his hatred on him and his friends. Marik demonstrates a fair amount of knowledge of Duel Monsters through the use of his Millennium Rod and his rare hunters, as each of them have their own deck that Marik uses in order to defeat Yugi. Even though Marik loses to him multiple times, each of the decks have a viable strategy to win, such as being built to summon Exodia as fast as possible or making an impenetrable defense that Yugi is very lucky to have a key card to exploit. Marik actually makes the finals of the Battle City tournament, personally using a slow drain method to defeat both Mai and Joey in order to get there. Despite his losses, Marik consistently loses to 1 person, marking him as an exceptional duelist.
The strongest of Dartz’ henchman, Raphael is a powerful duelist. Being shipwrecked as a young boy, Raphael was stranded for 3 years on an island with only the clothes on his back and his Duel Monster cards. He eventually came to be in Dartz’ service, not knowing that it was Dartz who was responsible for the shipwreck that killed his entire family. Raphael shares Dartz’ hatred for the Pharaoh; unlike Dartz, however, Raphael accomplishes the near impossible by becoming one of the few duelists to ever beat Yami Yugi in a duel. Raphael’s chosen deck is that of Guardian themed cards, relying on a lot of support to protect and empower the monsters he was stranded with on the island. Even though he only duels Mai and Yami Yugi and he loses to Yami Yugi in their second duel, Raphael’s skill as well as his crucial win are what place him so high on the list.
3. Joey Wheeler/ Katsuya Jonouchi
Originally Yugi’s tormentor at school, Joey eventually becomes Yugi’s friend and grows from being one of many amateur duelists to one of the best duelists in the show. Joey shows a lot of consistency throughout the series: he makes it to the Duelist Kingdom Finals and the Battle City Semi-Finals, and he eventually beats Yami Yugi in a duel, making him one of the very few duelists to ever do so. Even though Joey’s deck in the beginning of the series is based around cards that involve a lot of luck, such as dice rolls, con flips, etc., Joey eventually obtains powerful cards of his own that allow him to overcome established duelists such as Weevil Underwood, Rex Raptor, Bandit Keith, and so on. Joey’s true skill is revealed when he has Marik Ishtar beaten in his Battle City semi-final match only to lose on a technicality before finishing his final attack. Without a doubt, Joey is one of the best duelists in the series, and certainly has a right to be considered the best.
2. Yugi Muto/Yami Yugi
The main character of the series, Yugi is a small boy who loves playing the many games his grandfather keeps in his shop. Showing a knack for puzzles, his grandfather gives him the Millennium Puzzle, resulting in an Egyptian Pharaoh known as Yami Yugi being awakened and starting an incredible journey for the both of them. Yugi is certainly skilled in Duel Monsters, having won both the Duelist Kingdom Tournament and the Battle City Tournament as well as defeating the world’s best duelists, including the game’s creator. However, his deck tends to have cards that only come to play against certain duelists, while some of his other cards are very grandiose, such as the God cards. Even the cards he uses consistently, such as those based around the Dark Magician, aren’t the most powerful cards to rely on. That being said, very few of his opponents are able to overcome these weaknesses, which speaks to Yami Yugi’s abilities as a duelist to win with whatever he is given.
1. Seto Kaiba
The CEO of KaibaCorp and Yami Yugi’s main rival, Seto Kaiba is arguably the best duelist in the original Yu-Gi-Oh TV show. No one else has the intensity and drive that Seto brings to the game. His knowledge of the game is best demonstrated by his response to his first ever loss to Yugi, as he creates multiple ways to defeat Yugi in their next duel and eventually wins, even if it is on a technicality (because screw the rules). His losses are minimal, having only legitimately lost to Yugi twice and once to Pegasus (which he rectifies later on). Most importantly, Seto’s deck shows a powerful consistency, revolving around one of the most powerful monsters in the game in addition to adapting newer cards to fit this theme. Truly one of the greatest duelists and the true King of Games.
Here is the list for the top 10 duelists in Yu-Gi-Oh. What do you guys think? Should the list have included duelists like Yusei and Jack? Should Yami Yugi have been the top pick? Should there have been more references to Yu-Gi-Oh: The Abridged Series? Let us know in the comments!