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Baneful's Column
February 28, 2014

Baneful's Take IV: Power Creep

(Note to readers: My writing has been getting a little sloppy lately and I know that my BLS article, in hindsight, is missing the depth it could have had.  Just been going through a phase of writer's block and now I'm just doing a straight stream of consciousness, as I write.  I apologize in this article if my articulation isn't so sharp or the structure of it as tight as it could be, but still I hope the point gets across) 

Power Creep, in a game, is the trend of newer content making older content obsolete.  This trend has profoundly affected Yu-Gi-Oh.  In result, the core mechanics that Kazuki Takahashi had in mind when making this game are not the metrics we go by today, though they still remain vestiges of what the game had intended to be. 

Level Four Beaters 

Let's cut to the chase.  I think everybody who has played for a while knows what "power creep" is.  We've all defined it by one example: ATK strength.  Since the start, 1800 ATK for a Normal Monster was the standard.  La Jinn the Mystical Genie of the Lamp and 7 Colored Fish were the main beaters.  Instantly, all of the other monsters were obsolete.  1500 ATK LV4 monsters were just substitutes you had until you could afford more packs and get the 1800-atk beaters. 

Konami did eventually realize that making entire sets of vanilla effect-less normal monsters was pointless.  In the anime, at least, the intention was to have progressively stronger monsters as the game went on.  You summoned a 1300 ATK monster.  Your opponent crushed it with a 1400 ATK monster, and then you summon your 1500 ATK monster to one-up them.  But if you already had an 1800 ATK monster to summon, then all weaker monsters become instantly obsolete (or just throw-away defenders until your draw your actual beaters). 

In Magic the Gathering, this made sense.  There was a mana-curve.  So both players would start out summoning their weak creatures because they had low mana, but then they would bring out more powerful creatures once they could afford them.. 

But back to my earlier points.  After La Jinn and Fish, Gemini Elf established itself as the 1900 beater and Kycoo the Ghost Destroyer established itself as the 1800 beater, but with a practical effect.  And 1900 ATK has been the "standard strong beater strength" for years until Gene-Warped Warwolf set 2000 as the standard, without having a restriction like Berserk Gorilla.  

But these are shallow metrics!!! 

Since Synchro's came out, the game has changed dramatically, and the idea of anything above 1900 or 2000 ATK being an unfairly strong card just doesn't reconcile with the fact that we can summon 2500 ATK and 3000 ATK monsters with ease (and relatively small cost).  The game back then, in 2002 and 2003 was based on who had the strongest monster, though there were removal options like Fissure to help turn the tide.  Today, strength still matters, but it's more-so about removal and building up combos. 

We had Cyber Dragon, a 2100 attacker that didn't even count as a normal summon, though today it's bad.  But I could imagine the response to a 2100 ATK beater coming out being ugly.  A 2200 ATK normal monster could come out today and it really wouldn't matter a whole lot.  Again, I can Special Summon Dark Armed Dragon and Judgment Dragon from my hand.  Or, I can find a way to finance 39: Utopia as a one for one. 

Tribute Monsters 

More importantly, tribute monsters were conceived as an idea to allow stronger creatures into play.  In order to have that 2700 ATK monster, you need to tribute 2 of your weaker monsters first.  But that's not what ended up happening.  Even at the beginning, while Summoned Skull was used (mainly for tributing cards like Sangan or an already-used Man-Eater Bug), Blue-Eyes White Dragon and Dark Magician were not.  They just were not worth tributing 2 monsters for, ever.  People, all across time, have been trying to find ways to dump in the graveyard and then revive it with a card like Monster Reborn. 

Today, we Special Summon big monsters with effects - not tribute for them.  In a sense, it's an honest version of what we all wanted from the very beginning.  Still, much different than what Kazuki Takahashi had originally planned. 

It was just too risky to summon a Blue-Eyes the way that we were originally supposed to.  This is because of quick easy removal.  Dark Hole and Fissure affects the Blue-Eyes you gave up 2 cards for in the same exact way it would affect a 7 Colored Fish.  Quick removal became a two-edged sword.  Since it's available, no one is going to want to take the risk.  But if it weren't available, tribute monsters would be broken.  The opponent would basically need to summon one of their own, somehow, while they're backed in a corner.  And compromising in between would just make things inconsistent.  Moreover (back then), was there a need for a 3000 ATK monster when a 1900 attacker could beat down the opponent just fine?   

Then vs. Now 

Seven years ago, Pojo writer Dark Maltos wrote an article called <a href="http://www.pojo.com/yu-gi-oh/FeaturedWriters/DarkMaltos/2006/07-16.shtml">"Tears"</a>, which stirred up lots of emotion and controversy in it's time.  To summarize his main point: he was upset that Konami was banning powerful cards instead of releasing more powerful cards to combat them, calling it regressive.   

This was in 2006, and while I don't think overpowered cards like Pot of Greed or Delinquent Duo were ever fit for balanced tournament play, I do agree with his overall point.  It was a time period when weak sets like Elemental Energy were released.  Basically, most of the cards released in that time were really weak.   There was a gap between older more powerful cards and the mediocre cards of the GX era.  Instead of meeting up to previously set standards, Konami decided to ban/limit cards to adapt to the new metagame. 

But things have changed a lot over the past 7 years.  And, even though he probably doesn't play YGO anymore, it looks like he got exactly what he wanted.   

For example, Black Luster Soldier - Envoy of the Beginning was ban-worthy back then, but today he fits well in the crowd of other powerful high-level monsters.  But I also sometimes feel like the game may have gone too far in the direction of power creep.  You can always loosen the faucet and allow a little more anarchy, but it's hard today to just all of a sudden reverse every single design decision in the past 5 years without it violating Occams Razor.  But also, looking back at the time, having 60-card sets with only 2 powerful cards in them was not pleasant either and I could see why Maltos was upset.  For me, at that time, I liked the slowness because I didn't adapt very well to drastic changes but I can easily see how it could drive other people mad. 

Conclusion 

There has been evolution in the game, and YGO did not pan out anywhere near what it planned to be on paper.  This is a good thing, I think.  Well, not what the game was planned to be, but rather what the game became.  Relying on a higher attack strength and tributing to edge out the opponent in strings of constant linear simplistic battles just wouldn't have been much fun.  It would've been the equivalent of cavemen hitting each other with clubs.  So, today we are with out fast-paced gameplay.  Monsters are big and strong, easy to summon, they fall easy and they are disposable. 

Surprisingly enough, the game was allowed to branch out from what it intended to be and what it is today.  Perhaps the idea of have loose mechanics without a fixed mana cost system helped induce this.  But as it stands, power had crept.  For, better and for worse.  Get used to being able to Special Summon a 2700 ATK monster that can revive itself (and destroy all cards on the field as it does) with one card.  And expect that to become obsolete too. 

Contact: banefulscolumn@gmail.com

 

 

 


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