First person: An ode to Yu-Gi-Oh! on its 25th anniversary

I will never forget the first time I laid eyes on a Yu-Gi-Oh! card. It was a winter day in early 2013. I was a 10-year-old kid and my cousin, my uncle and I went to Toys R Us ahead of a sleepover at his house. We wandered the aisles until my cousin wandered into […]
Photo: Alex Lambert
The author, a fan of the the game since childhood, says the Yu-Gi-Oh! community is welcoming and open to new duelists.

I will never forget the first time I laid eyes on a Yu-Gi-Oh! card. It was a winter day in early 2013. I was a 10-year-old kid and my cousin, my uncle and I went to Toys R Us ahead of a sleepover at his house. We wandered the aisles until my cousin wandered into the section containing the Yu-Gi-Oh! cards.

It had two decks, one featuring a blue box with a creature resembling a sea dragon on it, and other a red box featuring a creature resembling a phoenix, sporting a multitude of colors on its massive wings. My cousin asked my uncle to buy us each a deck, and he agreed. My cousin got the blue box, and I got the red box. We went home and played.

With the game’s 25th anniversary slated for February 2024 and the release of the 25th Anniversary Rarity Collection on Nov. 2, long-time fans, myself included, have begun reminiscing and speaking on the love we have for this card game.

On my first day with my deck, I ended up getting beat bad and I figured it would be a one-off time. I quit playing for a few months, until someone at my elementary school brought a deck of Yu-Gi-Oh! cards and asked if anyone else had any. The next day we all showed up with our decks and started playing. We played Yu-Gi-Oh! the entire lunch period that day and many other days after, and we continued to play after school at each other’s houses, with my front yard being the most usual location.

We’d play on the school bus seats on the way to field trips and sports tournaments, we’d play at lunch on the pavement, we’d play at home on my walkway. Even though we didn’t really know what we were doing and didn’t even play by the rules, it didn’t matter.

We were transfixed.

Yu-Gi-Oh! is a simple game. Each player starts with eight thousand Life Points and the goal of the game is to reduce that number to zero through the use of Monster Cards, which are summoned to your “field” as pieces to attack your opponent’s life and monsters with Spell Cards, which can have a variety of effects. Trap Cards are typically used to counter an opponent’s play in some way.

One thing that separates Yu-Gi-Oh! from its competitors is that unlike games like Magic the Gathering and Pokémon, cards of every era are playable. That copy of Dark Magician or Cyber Dragon you pulled out of a pack when you were a kid is still as useful today as it was 20 years ago.

The game, created by mangaka Kazuki Takahashi for his manga of the same name, was released in 1999 in Japan and 2002 in North America, with what fans know as The Legend of The Blue-Eyes White Dragon, otherwise known as Vol. 0 in Japan. The game was featured in his story about a young teenager possessed by an ancient Egyptian pharaoh, and people liked the concept of the game so much that they sent letter to Takahashi and Yu-Gi-Oh!’s publisher Shonen Jump asking where they could play Yu-Gi-Oh!

That was just a teaser of what was to come in terms of the fans’ love for the game. Over the 25 years the game has been out, fans have still remained dedicated to the art of dueling.

“The game is a means to make friends,” said Peter Howe, a former student in the business administration program at Algonquin College. ” A means to have a non-toxic hobby that keeps my brain thinking. I enjoy it because it invokes math and problem-solving skills. “

“The sensation is just great,” said Jefferson Colin, an Ottawan and avid Yu-Gi-Oh! fan who plays at Carta Magica, an east-end card store where the Yu-Gi-Oh! players go to play. “I love the collecting, getting my rarities up. I love playing against other people face to face, like in person.

In high school, we expanded our friend group, and although almost everyone petered off, even in senior year I would still play Yu-Gi-Oh! with my friends at the cafeteria lunch table. (Now with sleeves, better decks and deck boxes to prevent our cards from ending up like our older ones.) We’d go to local card shops to play, and some of us even played in tournaments, getting beaten down by the regulars in the place.

Over time those friends left my life, and I stopped playing. By this point my cousin had stopped playing as well, meaning the only option was to go to the card store and just play there, which wasn’t fun without my friends. However, that all changed one night, as I laid in bed scrolling YouTube, I found a video by the channel MoonDoggie about his personal experiences with the game, and I returned yet again, still playing to this day.

And, for those who see this and think “this looks pretty cool, I want to learn to play Yu-Gi-Oh!”, our community is always welcoming and open to new duelists. I am certain that someone who plays would be happy to introduce you to the game and show you the ropes. My other piece of advice is to find some resources to help you get started. I would recommend watching this video by Team APS, a popular Yu-Gi-Oh! YouTube Channel, for some insight on things you can do to get started easier.

Or, if you want to get started, the red box of cards that got me hooked over a decade ago is being reprinted starting Dec. 7. The Fire Kings structure deck is a great way to learn the game and the cards inside include that phoenix-loke creature, now called Sacred Fire King Garunix, who you’ll grow to love as much as I loved my version of Garunix from a decade ago.

Sadly, Kazuki Takahashi, the game’s creator, passed away in 2022 while attempting to save three other people from drowning in a rip current. He will not be here to witness the 25th anniversary, but the game he dreamt up has changed the lives of thousands of people, myself included, forever.

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