Custom Formats: Highlander, Hydralander, There Can Only Be One.

One of the core features that the Yugioh TCG lacks is a variety of formats, there is either the Advanced Constructed format or the Traditional format. Only one of these is even actively supported by Konami and the other is just there to provide a cluster of memes. 

There are a few formats that have sprung out of players creativity, nostalgia and desire for variety in the game of YuGiOh. 

Highlander, Like a lot of other formats and terminology, has is rooted in Magic The Gathering. The Elder Dragon Highlander deck is the origin of the deck. The term Highlander is, in fact, a reference to the 1986 film “Highlander” OrbitalHydralander-MP18-EN-C-1E.png

Highlander as a format that’s popular across other card games. Magic the Gathering has the commander/highlander format and Hearthstone has cards that promote the playstyle with effects that only activate when there’s only one of each card left in your deck. Hearthstone has even flirted with Highlander decks being meta for a significant amount of time.

YuGiOh has a little known card called Orbital Hydralander which is a not so subtle hat tip to the format of the other games. Set Rotation and Judge Call are another two cards in the TCG with great allusions! 


What is it and what are the rules? 

Anywho – The Highlander or, Hydralander, format is a simple change to the game. Every Card in the Game goes to 1. Mystical Space Typhoon? It’s at 1. Raigeki? It’s at 1. Painful Choice? It’s at 1. 

This opens up the deck-building choices immensely at the assumed cost of deck consistency. It’s hard to have consistent gameplay or linear plays when you’ve got 40 different cards in your deck. 

This is different to say, Traditional Format, in that instead of everything at 3 and banned cards at 1, it’s just everything at 1 to balance the game or unbalance it.

It’s not quite working how I thought it was. 

There are a few optional rules you can implement too: 

  1. Mulligans. Magic and Hearthstone already have mulligans built into their core game mechanics which allows for improvement to consistency and playability of your decks. Some people choose to implement this into their YuGiOh Hydralander competitions to pull back a bit of consistency.
  2. Keep Extra Deck Bans intact. The extra deck portion of the ban list becomes an issue in Hydralander as the majority of the cards are full power even at 1 copy in your deck. That’s why they’re banned and not limited to one. An easy blanket way is to keep them banned.
  3. Deck Size. If you find your decks still retain their consistency or playability you can drive up the deck size to a minimum of 60 to make it even harder for your deck to do the same thing over and over again. 
  4. Lifepoints. Another tweak you can make to the system is to change the amount of life points up or down depending on what you want to do.

Potential Decks

When it comes to selecting a deck for Hydralander there’s a surprising amount of good options. At first, I thought Burning Abyss would be a clear leader, being that it’s been played as an almost Hydralander deck in the past at the YCS level of competition. 

Burning Abyss is one of those strategies that stands out thanks to the commonality of the monster effects, they all do the same thing – so in a Hydralander format, they give you the ability to have consistency.

The key thing to look at if you’re trying to build a theme or archetypal deck is can you get cards that do the same thing and mash them all in together? Metalfoes is a great example where the cards all do the same thing.

Link Turbo

The availability of Duel Overload cards, level eater and a general disregard for interruption, the link turbo deck stands out as a strong contender. There are plenty of available starter cards with Scrap Recycler, Emergency Teleport and Armageddon Knight. Turbo up to Tri-gate wizard backed up with a Barrier Statue summoned by Simorgh. This deck shows off why token generating cards such as Steam the Cloak, Gofu and Dandelion are all hidden away on the ban list never to be seen again. 

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Sky Striker

Skystriker is super consistent even with all the cards at its disposable available at one. The variety and recursion available to the sky striker player are unrivalled. Having one Engage back to one gives you search and draw power but the real strength in Hydralander format is the toolbox available to you. You’ve got easy access to on-field destruction, Graveyard disruption and effect negation. If you can get the ball rolling it’s going to be hard to stop.

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Dragon Mash

With the variety of Rokket Monsters coupled with the now free dragon rulers, a good pilot can take this deck far. There are a lot of different named Rokket monsters with similar effects and the extra deck monsters require the name of Rokket so you can get to your combos with relative ease. Re-learning the combos with the dragon rulers is a challenge if you’re set in your ways but if you can leverage the banned power of the rulers you can make waves (tidal) 

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Burning Abyss

One of the strongest play styles that took advantage of Hydralander in regular YuGiOh, the Malebranche’s make short work of the format. Being able to take advantage of staples such as That Grass Looks Greener and Painful Choice, Burning abyss and the Phantom Knights make great bedfellows.

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Bringing all 3 of Yuya’s archetypes together, Odd-Eyes, Performapals and Magicians, the pendulum deck looks to use its recursion and search power to overwhelm the opponent. The strength of the forbidden Monkeyboard, Double Iris Magician and Astrograph Sorcerer gives this deck a lot of strength. The weaknesses are consistency but hey, that’s not too dissimilar to regular pendulum right? 


Talk is cheap, How does it work in practice?

We decided to test the theory of Hydralander in our weekly online tournament – most of the deck above were represented and it was good to give them a real-world spin to see the viability and if there were any holes in the concept. We chose to go with everything at 1 except banned extra deck monsters – there was no way having Firewall would promote healthy, varied deck building. 

We had a great time with the format, designing decks and figuring out techs. Overall I was surprised at the variety and thought put into the decks. I was expecting one or two strategies to be followed but there were 6 different decks all vying for the title. After all, was said and done Link Spam came out on top. 

What did we learn?

The benefits of testing and playing in this format with pride on the line were we could take real-world experiences from the experiment and pull results. There’s a few traps and spells that shouldn’t really be in the game as they don’t promote open gameplay and deck building variety. You’ll notice from the decklists, the staple core is very similar; it’s just the engine that’s varied. It’s interesting because this leans back to some of the original reasons (excuses) the ban list was first implemented that deck building starts to be less about the cards you put in and more about the cards you can’t leave out. Going forward we may look to implement additional custom bans but overall it was successful and fun. is

The real question is, even though some of the banned cards made it into every deck, did they warp the format? Royal Oppression and Vanity’s Emptiness can be very, well, oppressive without consistent spell and trap removal. 

What does the future hold? ThereCanBeOnlyOne-EXFO-EN-SR-1E.png

Building your own format or adapting ideas from other places is a great way to bring a bit of excitement back into YuGiOh when you lose a bit of oomph. Try working through the theory of other decks that sit far outside the meta and be creative with your deck choices and don’t be afraid to mash 2 or 3 strategies together. 

We are going to try the format again once lockdown is over, it will no doubt be a lot different without access to every card and could force even more variety to the deck building and different ideas associated. 

I’m interested in any ideas you’ve got for other formats such as non-meta / table 500 and I guess Trinity format too. 

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