Free-to-play mobile spinoff Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Links recently made its way to Steam, and while I don't love it like I do the standard Yu-Gi-Oh card game, its authentic presentation and snappy interface are enough to give fans of the series hours of nostalgic fun. Of course, PvP is at the heart of all card games, and Duel Links is no exception.
As I detailed in my impressions piece, Duel Links uses speed duel rules. This rule set essentially cuts standard Yu-Gi-Oh in half: 4,000 life points instead of 8,000, six board spaces instead of 10, one main phase instead of two, 20 card decks instead of 40, and a smaller starting hand. Duel Links also lacks extra deck tools like Synchro, XYZ and Pendulum cards, as well as several archetype-specific finishers and support cards.
As a result, the best decks in Duel Links are very different from their TCG counterparts. Some strategies and themes carry over, but everything plays out on a smaller, more limited scale. Compared to the TCG, this limits Duel Links' competitive depth, though its duelist-specific skills help make up the difference. Nevertheless, the emergence of strong decks in card games is as sure as death and taxes, and Duel Links does have a roughly defined meta. Here are five competitive decks from the upper echelons of that meta which illustrate different playstyles.
(Note: In light of the most recent ban list update, Cyber Angels were not included in this list, as semi-limiting both Cyber Angel Dakini and Machine Angel Ritual severely weakened the deck and their post-nerf power level is still unclear.)
Three-Star Demotion (Paradox Brothers): Pay 3,000 life points to reduce the level of all monsters in your hand by three until the end phase. You can only use this once per turn.
Black Dragon Ninja: Your main finisher. This monster is capable of dodging enemy cards, triggering other Ninja effects and sneaking in multiple attacks by blinking (i.e. banishing and then resummoning) monsters.
Ninjitsu Art of Transformation: Tribute a Ninja monster to special summon another Ninja monster from your hand or deck, often Black Dragon Ninja.
Ninjitsu Art of Duplication: Tribute a Ninja to special summon multiple lower-star Ninjas which can wreak havoc on your opponent's board.
Best Ninja deck: Duel Links GameA's 3SD Ninja list
I wanted to begin with Ninjas because it's arguably the closest thing to a 'normal' Yu-Gi-Oh deck that you'll find in Duel Links: it's filled with unique cards, it has high one-turn-kill potential, and it has a tool box of support cards to help clear the way for an OTK.
Black Dragon Ninja is the core of this deck. You want to use his effect to remove monsters from play at the right time, frequently during the battle phase. The obvious implication is removing defending enemy monsters, but you can also blink Black Dragon Ninja himself to protect him from enemy effects (he won't be targetable when the chain resolves) or to allow him to attack repeatedly in the same battle phase. You can repeat this process as long as you have Ninja and Ninjitsu cards to tribute.
Ninjitsu Art of Transformation and Duplication ensure you always have immediate access to the Ninjas you need, and support spells like Ninjitsu Art Notebook and Armor Ninjitsu Art of Alchemy help thin your deck. An added bonus is that you don't need multiple copies of Black Dragon Ninja if you don't have them, since you can consistently summon him from anywhere. Together with Three-Star Demotion, which allows you to normal summon Black Dragon Ninja or Red Dragon Ninja from your hand for one turn, this makes for incredibly consistent OTKs, often as early as turn two.
Holy Guard (Tea Gardner): You don't take battle damage during your turn.
Gladiator Beast Bestiari: When special summoned by another Gladiator Beast's effect, Bestiari can destroy a spell or trap.
Gladiator Beast Murmillo: When special summoned by another Gladiator Beast's effect, Murmillo can destroy a monster.
Gladiator Beast Laquari: When special summoned by another Gladiator Beast's effect, Laquari's attack is boosted to 2,100.
Best Gladiator Beast deck: Duel Links GameA's Gladiator Beast list
Gladiator Beasts are the picture of a tool box deck. Their unique effect allows them to 'tag out' whenever they attack or are attacked, letting you special summon another Gladiator Beast from your deck and activate their effect. So, to play them correctly, you need to determine when to tag out and who to summon based on the situation.
In general, you'll focus on controlling the board by tagging between Bestiari and Murmillo while Laquari, your strongest normal attacker, holds the line. To ensure your monsters survive the battle phase, use cards like Enemy Controller and Impenetrable Attack to manipulate enemy monsters and protect your own. The Holy Guard skill works especially well with Impenetrable Attack because you never have to worry about taking damage on your turn. This allows you to freely attack into stronger monsters in order to tag out.
Beatdown (Seto Kaiba): Boost the attack points of your face-up attack position monsters by 300 points for every level five-or-higher monster you control. You can only use this once per turn.
Red-Eyes Zombie Dragon: Your main finisher which can be tribute summoned with just one zombie and easily special summoned in several ways.
Red-Eyes Spirit: An easy way to get Red-Eyes Zombie Dragon onto the board from your graveyard.
Gozuki: The best way to put Red-Eyes Zombie Dragon into your graveyard to set up for Red-Eyes Spirit, not to mention a built-in way to special summon it from your hand.
Best Red-Eyes Zombie deck: Kaito's Red-Eyes Beatdown list
As you may have guessed from its recommended skill, Red-Eyes Zombies is a beatdown deck. That is to say, it hits things really hard. But it's especially powerful and interesting because it focuses on playing from your graveyard. It also received a significant boost with the addition of the Zombie World field spell, which makes Red-Eyes Zombie Dragon's secondary effect far more relevant.
Gozuki is your bread and butter. He can pull Red-Eyes Zombie Dragon from your hand or dump him into your graveyard from your deck—whatever you need to set up a special summon. From there, you can use Red-Eyes Spirit, Red-Eyes Insight and Red-Eyes Wyvern to fill your board with Zombie Dragons, use Beatdown to pump them up, and go in for the kill.
This deck's main weakness is its, well, weakness. Red-Eyes Zombie Dragon has a powerful engine but its attack isn't actually that high, which is why we rely on Beatdown to give us an edge in the battle phase. However, to help get over huge enemy monsters, you'll also want to run cards like Wall of Disruption and Enemy Controller. Mirror Wall is another power tool for shrinking enemy monsters.
Duel, standby (Tea Gardner): Both players start the duel with one more card in their hand.
Woodland Sprite: The core of the deck. Use its effect to send equip spells to the graveyard and damage your opponent.
Cursed Bamboo Sword: This equip spell nets you another Bamboo Sword card when tributed by Woodland Sprite, which keeps your engine running.
Golden Bamboo Sword: A powerful source of card draw which is virtually always active.
Best Bamboo Burn deck: Player One's Bamboo FTK list
Bamboo Burn is new to the Duel Links meta and isn't exactly beloved due to its uninteractive nature. After all, the focus of the deck is exploiting Duel Links' lowered deck size and life point total, ignoring the board and killing your opponent with direct damage—ideally in one turn and often on turn one.
It's similar to Exodia decks, and consequently, many people consider it to be a cheap deck—even Konami said they're considering nerfing it. I'm inclined to agree, but there's no denying its effectiveness and elegance. It's also fairly cheap to build and a great example of how burn works in Yu-Gi-Oh.
Bamboo Burn's strength is its simplicity: you draw lots of cards, equip cards like Broken Bamboo Sword and Black Pendant to Woodland Sprite, and then send them to the graveyard for 500 damage apiece. Repeat until dead. This strategy lets you get away with helter-skelter cards like Into the Void and Cup of Ace: you don't have to worry about their potential downsides because you planning on winning the turn you play them. Magical Mallet is another great way to improve your opening hands, and extra burn like Restructer Revolution won't go amiss.
Balance (available to multiple duelists): Your opening hand is dictated by your deck composition. So, if you run five monsters, 10 spells and five traps, you'll always open with one monster, two spells and one trap. The same formula holds true for other combinations, so aim to build your deck in increments of five.
Amazoness Swords Woman: Your opponent takes all battle damage you would take from battles involving this card, meaning you can run it into big monsters to burn your opponent out.
Amazoness Willpower: This trap special summons your Amazoness Swords Woman from the graveyard and forces it to attack, which is exactly what we want.
Massivemorph: Doubles the attack of an enemy monster and prevents it from attacking you directly.
Best Massive Amazoness deck: JayDizzle's Mighty Morphing Amazoness list
While arguably a burn deck, Massive Amazoness is more of a combo deck than anything. It pairs Amazoness Swords Woman's unique effect with Massivemorph to deal huge damage to the opponent using their own monsters. It also uses Balance to ensure consistent opening hands, which demonstrates how powerful Duel Links' skills can be.
This is a very simple deck, so apart from your few key cards, just focus on playing up your strengths and minimizing your weaknesses. Use Enemy Controller to force enemy monsters into attack position, increase your damage output with Half-Shut, or protect your Amazoness Swords Woman with cards like Dimensional Gate. As player JayDizzle's list demonstrates, you can also add in alternate win conditions with cards like Lava Golem, and stall for time with Draining Shield or Enchanted Javelin.