Everyone who’s watched the Yu-Gi-Oh cartoon is familiar with the iconic Exodia, the all-powerful monster Yugi uses to pull of a stunning upset victory over Seto Kaiba in the very first episode. Such is his power that if you assemble all 5 pieces in your hand, you automatically win the duel. These cards also exist in the real Yu-Gi-Oh card game, with the exact same effect; clearly, they must be similarly impressive, right?
Unfortunately, no. Despite being around from the very beginning, Exodia decks have basically never done anything of note. There’s a very simple reason why; when you have all 5 pieces in hand, you automatically win, but when you have 1-4 pieces in hand, they’re just dead, useless cards taking up space. Yu-Gi-Oh is a lightning quick game with razor-thin margins; having 5 cards in your deck that do absolutely nothing until you have all 5 in hand is just going to be too clunky most of the time. People have tried to figure this one out over the years, and have made some valiant efforts (I’m partial to Dragon Draw, because it also used Blue-Eyes White Dragon, not as a monster to summon but as discard fodder for part of a 5-card synergistic draw engine1 to attempt to draw every card in your deck turn 1) but have never actually cracked the nut of being tournament-relevant.
Well, except for that one time.
Enter Jarel “Prowinston” Winston. Prowinston was2 a famous competitive player, well-known both for his exploits in tournaments and his popular YouTube channel, where he posted videos about the game. (He even had a catchphrase: he always signed off with “You already know: if it’s not pro it gots to go. Deuces.”) In 2012 he qualified for the Yu-Gi-Oh World Championhip, a prestigious honor.
However, there was a bit of a problem. As I’ve mentioned many times before, competitive Yu-Gi-Oh consists of two slightly separate games, the OCG and the TCG. One of the few times this distinction really matters is during the World Championship. Because each game has a different card pool (and as of 2013 a different banlist) Worlds is always a weirdo mish-mash of a format. You can only play cards that have been printed in both the OCG and the TCG, and both game’s banlists are merged. In 2012, this process resulted in two of the TCG’s best decks from the prior few months (Dino Rabbits and Wind-Ups) becoming unplayable at the event. Instead, the obvious best deck of the Worlds format was Inzektors, a deck that was popular in the TCG, sure, but was dominant in the OCG.
So, as a TCG player Prowinston faced a dilemma. He could play the best deck in the format, but by doing so he’d almost certainly be at a disadvantage compared to the OCG competitors, who lived and breathed the deck. So instead, he chose to go in a different direction. He chose to turn to…forbidden strategies.
Prowinston chose to play Exodia, a deck his opponents were definitely not expecting at all (on account of it having never been good ever). He hoped to use their surprise to his advantage, catching them off-guard with no idea how to side deck3 against him. But he wasn’t just relying on that; Prowinston also had a genuinely innovative build of Exodia. Rather than attempt the traditional method of drawing as many cards as possible as fast as possible, he built what he called “Chain Exodia”. The deck ran Accumulated Fortune4 alongside a whole lot of defensive cards and other trap cards that drew cards, just like a Chain Burn deck. Unlike a Chain Burn deck, he also ran Hope For Escape, a nifty little card that let him draw several cards at once so long as his life points were lower than his opponent’s. He paired that with Gift Card, an otherwise joke of a card that gives your opponent 3,000 life points.
All this combined created an Exodia deck that was more resilient, that could ride out mediocre hands by stalling on defense. And it kinda worked! Prowinston wound up going 3-2 during the Swiss rounds of the tournament, good enough to make the cut for the top 8 playoffs. Unfortunately, he lost his quarterfinal match in somewhat controversial fashion; there was a dispute between Prowinston and his opponent over the exact timing of when he activated the card “Threatening Roar”, and both his opponent and the judge making the ruling were native Japanese speakers while Prowinston was not (Worlds taking place in Japan that year) resulting in an environment where it was very hard for him to argue a nuanced technicality against his opponent. That’s the risk of running such an unexpected deck at a multilingual event like Worlds, I suppose.
Still, top 8 at the World Championship is pretty damn impressive! Unfortunately for Exodia, this wasn’t the herald of a new era. This was a weird tournament with weird circumstances, and Exodia decks weren’t actually a good choice the remaining 99% of the time. Still, we’ll always have this one shining moment.