Yu-Gi-Oh is a game dominated by archetypes, which in this context means pre-built deck engines. Archetypes share a name and core mechanics, and are the game very unsubtly suggesting to you what deck you might like to build. They first became a thing during the GX era1, and by the time of 5Ds2 had become exceptionally common. Sometimes an archetype gets introduced in a single set, ready to dominate the competitive circuit. Sometimes, however, it takes a while. Traditionally, archetypes were released across 1-3 consecutive sets before the game moved on.
Let’s look at an example! The Spellbook/Prophecy archetype revolved around spell cards with the “Spellbook” name and spellcaster-type monsters with the “Prophecy” name. It first gets introduced in the August 20123 set “Return of the Duelist”. It comes out strong with 5 Spellbook spells and 8 Prophecy monsters. Right away the archetype has strong searching power; the spell “Spellbook of Secrets” let you grab any other Spellbook from you deck, as did the monster “Spellbook Magician of Prophecy” whenever it was normal summoned4. There were some situationally useful cards that benefitted from this searchability, like Spellbooks of Power, Life, and Wisdom. There were even some high-end Prophecy monsters that could do some real damage, such as High Priestess of Prophecy and Prophecy Destroyer. Ultimately however, the deck wasn’t really ready for primetime. It was a good foundation, but it didn’t have enough payoff to really do anything notable. So, with 1 set down this was looking like a forgotten “also-ran” archetype.
Except, let’s look at High Priestess of Prophecy for a second.
That effect’s fine, yeah. Good, even. But that’s not actually the important part. The important part is the card art; High Priestess is a pretty, demure-looking girl who vaguely resembles the Dark Magician Girl, which to a Certain Type of Yu-Gi-Oh player is fucking catnip. High Priestess commanded a high price on the secondary market from launch despite having 0 competitive relevance entirely thanks to demand from the kind of guy who has multiple pages in his trade binder dedicated to every single version of Dark Magician Girl. So despite the inauspicious start future Spellbook/Prophecy support was hotly anticipated.
Next up is the November 2012 set “Abyss Rising”, which brings new cards for our archetype: 5 Spellbooks and 5 Prophecies. The Spellbooks are nearly all useful (sorry Spellbook Library of the Heliosphere). Spellbook of Eternity and The Grand Spellbook Tower helped you recover and recur previously played Spellbooks, while Spellbook Star Hall helped provide a win condition by making your spellcasters more powerful for each Spellbook you played in the duel. But the real star here was Spellbook of Fate, a powerful quickplay spell. Quickplays can be played on your opponent’s turn, functioning pretty similarly to trap cards, and Fate could (among other things) banish any card your opponent controlled, a powerful and flexible bit of removal. With these reinforcements the shape of the deck began to take form; Spellbook decks were clearly meant to be control decks, grinding opponents down by recurring all their spells until finishing them off with High Priestess.
Unfortunately the deck still couldn’t quite compete; it was inconsistent, and the monster lineup couldn’t really hang with the powerful spells (you may have noticed I described 4 Spellbooks and 0 Prophecies last paragraph; that about sums it up). So it was time to turn to the third set of support: February 2013’s “Cosmo Blazer”. This one was pretty light; just one Spellbook and 2 Prophecies. And true to past example, the Spellbook was a useful consistency booster while the Prophecies were useless. The deck was now gaining some competitive attention, but it wasn’t much, and the results weren’t there. Spellbooks were destined to be a deck with neat tools that just never quite came together it seemed.
Konami chose to take the unprecedented step of supporting Spellbooks in a fourth consecutive set (May 2013’s “Lord of the Tachyon Galaxy”). No one’s quite sure why they did this; perhaps they saw the numbers High Priestess was doing and their eyes bulged out of their heads before snapping back in, dollar signs5 affixed to the pupils. But regardless, Spellbooks had one last chance at the big leagues. And this time, Uncle Konami would make absolutely certain they mattered.
Enter Spellbook of Judgment. This is the most hilariously “Fuck Everything, We’re Doing Five Blades” card ever printed. Judgment let you grab, during your End Phase, 1 Spellbook from your deck for every Spellbook you played that turn, and then for good measure summon from your deck a spellcaster whose level was less than or equal to that number. With Judgment, it was effortless to always have every Spellbook you needed for the entire duel; resolve just one and you’re set for life. And the summon being for spellcasters rather than Prophecy monsters fully cemented the abandoning of the lesser half of the archetype; the deck could run some generically good Spellcaster monsters to fill out the roster while letting the steady stream of spells provided by Judgment carry the weight. Every single player, upon first reading this card, knew that it meant Spellbooks were done being the pet project of the guy wearing the felt Rainbow Dash cap6 and were instead headed to the very top of tier 1, maybe even tier 0.
And they were right! With their OP beyond belief ace, Spellbooks rocketed all the way to…the second best deck of the format. Yep, as one final indignity, not even this card was enough to let them dominate unquestioned; Lord of the Tachyon Galaxy also gave us the insanely powerful Dragon Ruler archetype. This was maybe the most powerful deck in the game’s history at the time, and unlike Spellbooks it only needed one set of support to start dominating. And so while Spellbooks were still quite good and quite popular, they had to warp themselves pretty hard into being specifically anti-Dragon Ruler decks, using Judgment’s power to turbo out monsters like Jowgen the Spiritualist and Kycoo the Ghost Destroyer that really disrupted what Dragon Rulers liked to do. They weren’t even able to consistently run the waifu that started it all thanks to the warping effect of Dragon Rulers; she was good against fellow Spellbook decks, and good against side deck cards, but often had to come out of the side deck herself because of how useless she was in game 1 against Dragons. Spellbooks were able to put up good numbers, even winning the European championship that year, but in the end couldn’t quite measure up to Dragon Rulers, which won the North American championship and the World championship.
And that was that! The banlist was updated that September7 and naturally Judgment was Forbidden, where it sits to this day. And without its star player the deck crumbled, falling well behind the pack. It returned to its natural state, a deck with no competitive prospects but whose would-be star monster could fetch strong trade value from Certain Individuals. Seriously, I just looked this up; the original Secret Rare printing is ~$25! For an old card that’s been reprinted and isn’t any good competitively that’s kind of unheard of in YGO. Shine on, trade binder weirdos. Shine on.