Broken is a subjective term used to refer to any card or strategy that gives its user an excessive advantage, or a card or strategy that defines the competitive metagame in a negative or imbalanced manner, these cards are often regarded as unhealthy for the game and only have negative effects on it. Most cards that are considered or found broken are usually Forbidden or Limited shortly afterward, though not necessarily always.
In general, the two primary factors for gauging a card or strategy's balance is its cost and its consistency. For example, some FTK and OTK setups can enable their user to instantly win the Duel without their opponent being able to respond when performed correctly; however, they are very often inconsistent (and leave their user in a highly losing position if failed), making them not broken. (On the other hand, FTK/OTK setups that are discovered to be highly consistent will be deemed broken, and generally their key card(s) made Forbidden or Limited.)
It is sometimes the case that existing cards or strategies become retroactively unbalanced due to the release of newer cards or mechanics. Other times, cards or strategies may become broken due to an unexpected and/or unintended interaction with other cards, strategies, or mechanics. An alternate definition of "broken" can refer to cards/strategies that become heavily used outside of their intended design due to an exploitation or loophole in said design, thus "breaking" the design.
Examples of non-Forbidden cards considered broken
- "Mind Control" - When released, was considered a bad/situational card and was Unlimited due to a "stolen" opponent's monster being able to do little else other than use its effects. With the advent of Synchro Summoning years later, a mechanic that the card did not prevent (a "loophole"), the usability of the card increased drastically, making it immediately Limited due to its newfound power.
- “Raigeki” - One of the first cards released very early in the game, where it was difficult to predict how important field presence would be later on. The card was a costless nuke of your opponent’s field which immediately gives you an inherent advantage over the opponent. Was one of the first cards included on the banlist and remained there for over 10 years before being limited to 1 (the card is still banned in the OCG).
- "Imperial Order" - Considered broken by both possible definitions due to its intended upkeep cost being exploitable to actually make the card much more powerful than it would be without it. As the cost is optional and kicks in only at the beginning of the player's turn, and as the card is a Trap Card that can be activated during either player's turn, and as Spell Cards are almost always used during one's own turn and rarely during the opponent's turn, a user of this card can activate it during the opponent's turn (even in immediate response to a Spell they just played), then intentionally not pay the cost and allow the card to self-destruct during their own turn, thus locking the opponent out of all Spells for a turn while not affecting their own Spells at all, with all this at zero cost. The card was eventually taken off the list and given an errata to make the cost mandatory, and therefore, riskier to use, but the card is still Limited as it’s a popular side deck option against meta decks that heavily rely on their spell cards.
- "Self-Destruct Button" - When released, was considered only useful in an emergency to get out of a hopelessly losing situation with a result not as bad as a loss. However, its effect became abusable in timed tournament Duels, as a player could use this card to legally stall Matches until time ran out, thus completely undermining the intended best-of-3 mechanic and potentially abusing the "sudden death" mechanic to an undesirable degree. This card is Forbidden in the TCG but Unlimited in the OCG. (For more information, see the Victory condition page on tournament time limit mechanics and the "Self-Destruct Button" Card Tips page.)
- Soul Charge - A resurrection card that is arguably better than Monster Reborn, this card is often abused in special summon spam decks that bring out swarms of monsters for more Extra Deck materials, despite the hefty drawback of losing 1,000 life points for each monster that’s resurrected, making it a popular card for OTK decks that plan to win in that same turn, or next turn since you can’t conduct your battle phase the same turn you activate this. Its power left it limited to 1 copy per deck on the banlist.
- Called by the Grave - A Quick-Play Spell Card that is usually cited as one of the best counters to floating effects of cards or hand traps, pretty much any card that activates in the graveyard, by negating them and any additional copies on the spot, and as a Quick-Play card, you can activate it from your hand during your turn, safe from destruction. Currently semi-limited on the banlist.
- Ghost Girl (series) - Pretty much any card in this series can be considered powerful or arguably broken. Ghost Reaper & Winter Cherries is strictly a side-deck option as it requires knowing what cards your opponent has in their extra deck, but banishing their key monster can potentially turn the game around. Ghost Ogre & Snow Rabbit is probably the most fair card in the series, as it doesn’t actually negate the cards but rather destroys them. Ash Blossom & Joyous Spring is regarded as arguably the most broken, it can negate pretty much any search or draw card, or any attempts at milling, all at the simple cost of discarding this card from the hand, making it difficult to negate. Its power left it semi-limited in the OCG. Ghost Belle & Haunted Mansion is also more suitable for the side-deck as it’s very situational and doesn’t negate relevant searches Ash Blossom can negate, but it’s one of the best counters to resurrection cards like the aforementioned Monster Reborn or Soul Charge.
- Infinite Impermanence - A literal Hand Trap, this card is considered to be arguably better than Effect Veiler, because it can be used at any time, not just your opponent’s Main Phase 1, and can also negate every other card in the same column, and if the right conditions are met, this card can be activated straight from the hand, making it much harder to negate.
Examples of Forbidden cards considered broken
- "Wind-Up" Loop - A possibly unexpected lengthy combo involving using multiple copies of "Wind-Up Carrier Zenmaity" to repeatedly bring back and reuse the effect of "Wind-Up Hunter", which could wipe out an opponent's entire starting hand on the first turn, giving the user an overwhelming starting advantage with little to no chance for the opponent to respond. Soon after its discovery, "Wind-Up Carrier Zenmaity" was Limited and then Forbidden in the TCG; in the OCG, "Wind-Up Hunter" was moved directly from Unlimited to Forbidden instead.
- "Pot of Greed" - Released when the game was very new and it was likely difficult to anticipate the importance of card advantage in the future competitive metagame. Effectively gives the user an immediate unconditional costless +1 in card advantage, and makes it objectively superior to every other topdeck in the game, thus giving Deck constructors zero reason to not run the maximum number of copies possible in their Deck. Was made Limited and then Forbidden due to needlessly reducing Deck diversity and giving an arbitrary advantage to whoever drew it first. It’s still regarded as the only true Staple left in the game at this point. No matter what ratio of cards you’re running between 40 and 60, you’d absolutely have to run this card, there’s no reason not to (unless your deck uses “Sekka's Light”) and you’d just be a bad player if you didn’t, unless you just didn’t own the card, which is still not a good enough excuse because this card has over a dozen reprints.
- “Graceful Charity” - As stated above with “Pot of Greed”, this card is one of the earliest cards in the game, it was hard to predict the importance of card advantage in the future. This card was an effective way to do some Deck Thinning while also refreshing a lackluster hand, because you could draw 3 new cards and discard 2 cards that were either useless at the moment or cards that you wanted in the graveyard. Because this card discards as an effect and not a cost, it’s a popular example of a phenomena known as reverse power creep, as this card kept getting better as it aged. Archetypes like “Fabled”, “Dark World”, and “Danger!” are all about discarding themselves for effects while other decks like “Zombie” and “Lightsworn” do not mind dumping cards into the graveyard. This card has been banned along with “Pot of Greed” since the first banlist.
- "Victory Dragon" - Likely not intended by design, the ability for the card to interfere with something outside of the current Duel (namely, the result of a future Duel) made intentionally surrendering (or even intentionally breaking the rules to get a Game Loss penalty, in the event surrendering is not allowed) an actual viable strategy, anecdotally leading to a number of undesirable ruling disputes and arguments over "unsportsmanlike behavior" at tournaments. The card was later moved directly from Unlimited to Forbidden. (For more information, see the "Victory Dragon" Card Tips page.
- "Mass Driver" - Likely intended only as a last ditch method to inflict chip damage on the opponent by giving up large amounts of field advantage, its effect and the ability to activate it an unlimited number of times per turn led to the creation of a nearly unstoppable FTK strategy years later, with the advent of strategies that could use loops to Summon an unlimited number of weak monsters to the field (which would otherwise be not nearly as useful, with the natural 5-Monster Card Zone limit). Was soon moved directly from Unlimited to Forbidden.
- Chaos Emperor Dragon - Envoy of the End - This card, along with Yata-Garasu listed below, and the previously mentioned Victory Dragon, played a crucial role in the game’s history as they were the reason a banlist was created in the first place. An easily Topdeckable summoning (only requiring a LIGHT and DARK monster in the Graveyard) with high stats, and can wipe the entire field and hand of both players at the same time while inflicting (usually) massive burn damage for only 1000 Life Points, and because you deal damage for every card sent including your own, you could deal upwards of 3,000+ damage and leave the field clear for a direct attack, guaranteeing you a win. As a result, this card was nearly impossible to stop unless you could negate the summon first (with something like “Solemn Judgment”). This card, along with the aforementioned Yata-Garasu, is widely considered to be the most broken card in the entire game due to their incredible synergy, and both are also among the many reasons why the Ban List exists in the first place.
- Change of Heart - Even back when this card was released, it was considered to be too powerful (this is even pointed out in the anime), and Brain Control was subsequently released to be a more “balanced” version, though the only difference in card design was that the latter required an 800 life point cost, and both were still made forbidden. This card was a costless way to steal an opponent’s monster and do whatever you want with it. While it wasn’t as searchable as Snatch Steal, being an equip spell that can be searched by Power Tool Dragon or Hidden Armory, this card was much harder to stop in its tracks.
- Delinquent Duo - This card, and pretty much any card that allowed you to disrupt your opponent’s hand and/or also look at their hand like Confiscation, The Forceful Sentry, and Trap Dustshoot (all forbidden), were considered too broken because you inherently had the advantage already when you played those cards first, leaving your opponent at a disadvantage by plucking at their resources, especially with this card in particular. By paying a mere 1000 life points you could randomly discard 1 card from their hand while forcing them to discard 1 more card of their choice. If this card was played during the first turn of the duel, your opponent was already at a disadvantage because they would have to start their turn with only 4 cards.
- Butterfly Dagger - Elma - This card’s broken effect was likely completely unintentional, because there doesn’t seem to be anything really special about it at first, as it only gives a mere 300 ATK boost and it returns to your hand if it’s destroyed while equipped to something, which only gave it an edge over cards like Axe of Despair that required more specific conditions to recover it. The problem is that this card wasn’t a once per turn effect or something that returned during the end phase, it was immediate, which meant this card could keep returning to your hand in the same turn if it kept getting destroyed. This meant that it could be combined with Gearfried the Iron Knight, a monster that destroys any equip cards equipped to it, resulting in an infinite loop if the opponent couldn’t stop it. Again, at first glance that doesn’t seem very useful at all as a strategy, until you combined it with one of the three strategies:
- Magical Marionette - keep using a spell card to continuously give this card infinite ATK for an easy OTK.
- Fire Princess and Spell Absorption - continuously gaining life points and continuously inflicting damage at the same time.
- Royal Magical Library and Exodia - continuously accumulating spell counters to keep drawing cards until you drew all 5 pieces of Exodia.
- Because this card could create infinite loops, it was subsequently banned, shutting down all of these combos in Advanced format, and leaving Guardian Elma nearly impossible to summon in Advanced format for any dedicated Guardian users.
- Magical Scientist - This card is essentially the monster card version of Instant Fusion, albeit with more options as it can target Level 6 or lower Fusion monsters to special summon. At the time, this card was banned because although the summoned monsters could not attack directly, there were no other restrictions on what you could do with those monsters and because it doesn’t have a once per turn clause, you could keep summoning as many monsters as you could, given you had to pay 1000 life points. Most of the time, those Fusion monsters were used for tribute fodder to summon monsters or for card effects. This card is often cited as an example of reverse power creep, as this card kept getting better with age, in the Synchro Monster era you could just summon several synchro materials to bring out whatever you needed, in the Xyz Monster era you could just summon a ton of Xyz materials, and now with Link Monsters you can just summon a ton of Link materials in 1 turn, giving this card more of a reason to remain banned unless errata’d to be once per turn.
- Yata-Garasu - Infamous for being one half of the Yata-Garasu Lockdown, and as previously mentioned, one of the cards responsible for the creation of a banlist. This infamous lockdown involves using Chaos Emperor Dragon's effect to clear an opponent's field and hand, making sure that the opponent could not counter your Yata-Garasu with anything they already had, but because you also nuke your field and hand as well, you risked destroying your own Yata-Garasu if you happened to already have it. This is where “Sangan” and/or “Witch of the Black Forest” came into play in the lockdown, because once they were sent from the field to the GY, you could search for Yata-Garasu and add it to your hand, and as the coast is now clear, you can summon Yata-Garasu, and continuously attack the opponent. This leaves them stuck in an infinite loop where they are unable to draw cards, forcing them to forfeit the game and essentially resulting in an instant win. Effects like this are why other cards like “Time Seal” were banned, because skipping a draw phase was considered to be too powerful (the card “Fenrir” is excluded because of its very specific summoning conditions). Witch of the Black Forest, Sangan, and Chaos Emperor Dragon -Envoy of the End have since received an errata to balance their effects (Dragon’s errata is OCG only for now), making this combo more difficult to pull off now in Traditional Format, though Yata-Garasu and Chaos Emperor Dragon - Envoy of the End have yet to be unbanned.
- Harpie's Feather Duster - A costless nuke of your opponent’s backrow, able to clear the opponent's field of any threats you may be wary of, while leaving your field untouched without any form of drawbacks. One of the first cards included on the banlist and has remained there since (the card was recently limited to 1 in the OCG though).
- Royal Oppression - An old continuous trap card released early in the game where it was difficult to predict how prevalent and important special summoning would be later on. Unlike Vanity's Emptiness, another banned card with a similar effect that was much easier for you to shut off for your own special summons to go off again, this card had a much more broken method of stopping special summoning. Each player could pay 800 life points to negate a special summon at any time, as many times as you wanted. This card would be abused in the first turn especially, when the opponent has already finished special summoning their key cards and setting up their field, then they could set this card, ready to use it against their opponent to stop all of their attempts to special summon.
- Cyber-Stein - This card’s effect seems absolutely insane at first, with a massive 5000 life point cost to special summon any fusion monster from your extra Deck, it was seen as way too risky back then, until an OTK was discovered with this card, where you could pay the 5000 to special summon a Blue-Eyes Ultimate Dragon and equip it with Megamorph for a massive 9000 atk that could easily finish off the opponent in 1-2 turns if they couldn’t stop it.
- Mirage of Nightmare - This card is a continuous spell that you can activate on your turn, though it doesn’t do anything until your opponent’s turn, when you’re allowed to draw until you have 4 cards in your hand, so if you played this on the first turn, you’d get to drew an almost entire new hand basically, but you’d have to discard those cards once it was your turn again. At first glance, this card appears to have only niche uses, as you can only keep the cards for one turn (your opponent’s that is) before they were discarded on your next turn, but as was demonstrated in real life and in the anime, you could combo this card with cards like Emergency Provisions or Mystical Space Typhoon to destroy this card first, it’s effect doesn’t resolve anymore, and you get to keep the cards you drew, a combo that led to this card being banned for the ways you could abuse this card to attain massive card advantage. This card is also a popular example of reverse power creep, where it gets better with age, as many new meta decks don’t mind dumping cards into the graveyard, and even benefit from graveyard resources, like Lightsworn decks for instance.
- Sixth Sense - Often cited as a very poorly designed card for the game, despite being one of the oldest cards in the game’s history, and not having a TCG release for about 10 years after its initial OCG release. This card is infamous for being the only gamble card to be on the forbidden list, for being the only gamble card to have no real drawbacks objectively, and because it is the only card in the TCG that was never unlimited at some point, as it was limited to 1 as soon as it was finally released, before its emergency ban. A normal trap card that you could set, and once activated you had to roll a six-sided die and declare 2 numbers from 1 to 6. If the result matches one of your choices, you’d draw that many cards, but if not, you’d have to mill cards equal to the result. Back in the day, milling cards was seen as a real drawback because of how much the game has grown since then, but because of the potential to go +4 or +5 (players who used this card always declared numbers 5 and 6), it was still seen as too powerful and banned in the OCG. This card is a prime example of reverse power creep, as it ages well and gets better the more new graveyard mechanics are introduced. Lots of meta decks in modern Yu-Gi-Oh! don’t mind milling cards and it is actually an advantage instead to do so.
- Fiber Jar - This card isn’t banned for being broken necessarily, but rather for being an unhealthy gimmick card that threw out normal game mechanics for its effect. This is a Plant type Flip effect monster that essentially resets the game, excluding banished cards, life points, and Pendulum Monsters, by shuffling all cards in both players hands, field, and graveyard into the deck and then drawing 5 cards. This card was often abused in hopelessly losing situations by basically forcing both players to start over once this card was flipped face-up. This effect, along with being a cheap gimmick, was considered to have an unsportsmanlike effect, as it was seen as cheating your opponent out of their fair win. This was one of the first cards to be banned and has remained there since.
- Last Turn - Just like the above mentioned Fiber Jar, this card was banned for a multitude of reasons, but primarily for being a gimmick card that completely casts aside normal game mechanics for its effect. If your life points were 1,000 or less, all other cards in both player’s hands and fields were sent to the graveyard and the opponent had to special summon 1 monster from their deck to battle your 1 monster left on the field in some sort of winner-take-all death match (no battle damage is calculated for this battle). Whoever had 1 monster left on the field was declared the winner, any other case resulted in a DRAW. This resulted in players finding loopholes with this card’s wording to abuse the effect for a cheap win or to force a DRAW in hopelessly losing situations. One way that players forced a win was to have a face-up Jowgen the Spiritualist, or in some cases The Last Warrior from Another Planet, so that the opponent couldn’t special summon anything or respond with anything as all their cards are gone, and with that monster remaining on the field, you’d be the winner by default. How players forced a DRAW was to have a face-up D.D. Warrior Lady on the field, and both monsters would be banished during the battle, resulting in a DRAW by default as no monsters are left on the field, or the opponent would intentionally summon a monster with equal attack so both monsters would be destroyed. As Konami infamously hates ties, and this card is one of the few cards that can force a tie, it was banned on the first banlist.