BISMARCK, N.D (KXNET) — It may seem strange, but many trading card games — including Pokémon and Magic: The Gathering — have professional tournament scenes, where players can compete for cash prizes, trophies, and the glory of being the best in the world. Sometimes, companies will show their respect for these high-ranking players by gifting them with exclusive prize cards: rare, unique, incredibly valuable pieces of paper that are at times just as powerful as they are expensive. However, very few of these prizes are as famous- or elusive- as the Match Winners from the Yu-Gi-Oh Trading Card Game.

The Match Winners are all categorized by their similar traits — decent attack values, the requirement that you must sacrifice three of your monsters (usually all of the same type) to summon them, and the effect to immediately win a best two-out-of-three game should they deal the finishing blow to your opponents.

In total, there are 33 cards that are classified as ‘Match Winners’, and the list continues to grow over time. Despite their powerful effects, not many people know about them, and even fewer actually own one — they are only given out as prize cards for the game’s Championship Series, and those who do possess them presumably won’t part with their hard-earned winnings easily. Even then, those who do own these trophies are not permitted to take advantage of their power. Every Match Winner has a message at the bottom of the card stating that it cannot be used in a duel, and using one in a deck during a tournament (even one as small as the weekly scrap at your local game store) is grounds for an immediate ban.

To top it off, they are surprisingly weak as far as the game itself is concerned — they can be difficult to bring out to the battlefield, and are susceptible to being destroyed by the same threats that plague most Monsters in the game — being removed by Spell or Trap cards, being taken control of, or even simply run over by stronger monsters (none of them are stronger than the beloved Blue-Eyes White Dragon, one of the first ‘heavy hitters’ ever created).

As such, they have all faded into relative obscurity, and exist solely as intriguing pieces of the game’s menagerie that only appeal to the most die-hard collectors. That is, all except one — Victory Dragon, which has gone down in history as one of the most infamous cards in competitive Yu-Gi-Oh.

Victory Dragon as seen in Retro Pack #2 (2009). Image Credit: Konami and Kazuki Takashi

Victory Dragon was the first Match Winner, and in its debut, was exclusively awarded to winners of the 2003 World Championship. With such a rare and early specimen, one wouldn’t expect it to cause such a tremendous uproar in the card game community. Yet to this day, it remains as one of the most infamous cards to hit the dueling tables.

The rare card exploded onto the competitive scene of Yu-Gi-Oh in 2007 — and shortly after, it received the (dis)honor of being placed on the game’s Forbidden Cards list. Unlike some cards on the list, though, it is not there for its effect alone, but for the sheer amount of anger and dispute that erupted because of it.

To really explain the problem with Victory Dragon, and Match Winners in general, one needs to look at the structure of a Yu-Gi-Oh Tournament. In these competitions, victors, losers and overall places are decided in a match format (best two out of three). In between each game, players can switch cards from their main deck out with a ‘Side Deck’ in the hopes of better countering their opponent’s strategy. If someone was able to win their first duel with a finishing blow from a Match Winner, however, it’s effect would immediately grant them an extra win — bringing their count to two, and instantly claiming victory over the entire round without allowing the oppnent time to adjust their strategy or potentially stage a comeback by winning the other two games.

Normally, this would not be a problem. As mentioned above, all Match Winners explicitly mention they cannot be used in play — that is, except for Victory Dragon. For one reason or another (perhaps due to it being effectively a prototype for match-winning prize cards), it does not have this same distinction, and Konami itself never added any ruling corrections regarding its presence. This meant that those rare duelists who did manage to win a copy of the card were more than welcome to bring it to competitive play, although this rarely (if ever) occurred.

However, Victory Dragon received an unexpected surge in availability when it was reprinted as a special promotional card in a January 2007 issue of Shonen Jump (an extremely popular Manga magazine worldwide). While this version of the dragon was not as valuable due to its mass-produced nature (you can still find copies on card sale sites such as TCGPlayer for under $10), the important aspect is that it retained its match-winning qualities — allowing a huge number of people to get their hands on what was originally a power reserved for those who were skilled enough not to need it in the first place.

It’s one thing to use this ability in a friendly match, but in a tournament environment, this can effectively obliterate another player’s chances of progressing without a chance to fight back. And as one would expect, this cheap way of seizing the win was not well-received. It was hated so much, in fact, that people resorted to a tactic they would normally find reprehensible to escape it — surrender.

There are two formats when it comes to Yu-Gi-oh: TCG (Trading Card Game) and OCG (Original Card Game), and each had their own rules regarding forefiting games — rules that were used to get around the immediate win power of Victory Dragon. You see, Victory Dragon did not win the match unless its attack actually struck the opposing player. In the TCG (which is played everywhere around the world except Asia), a player is permitted to forefit a round at any time, and for any reason. This meant that the instant that someone on the losing end of the battle saw the dragon preparing for the killing blow, they would simply concede instead.

As forefiting only lost the player one round — not the entire best two out of three — this strategy would permit them a chance to access their side deck and prepare to face Victory Dragon properly without the fear of losing in one fell swoop. While this was considered extremely rude, it was the only way that some players could spare themselves from being completely removed from tournaments. This was made even worse in the OCG (played exclusively in Asia), where players were not permitted to forefit until later in the game. Even worse, the opponent would also have to accept the surrender — meaning they could simply deny the request and use the dragon to secure the match anyway.

When looked at from a competitive perspective, Victory Dragon caused a lose-lose situation. Players who forefited to avoid a match loss from the drake’s claws were seen as unsportsmanlike and willing to deny another player their win solely for their own benefit, and those who did play the card earned ire as people willing to use a cheap tactic to avoid a full two out of three match where the possibility of being countered existed. This was felt not just in the response from the players, but from official tournament judges as well — who would frequently have to make rulings regarding the game’s policy on forefiting which would always irritate one player or the other.

The violent and unhappy responses to Victory Dragon were, expectedly, unacceptable for a community based on public interaction, and left a company who was responsible for creating enjoyable and pleasant play environments (to the point where players can literally be penalized for improper hygeine) in a difficult situation. While Konami could not recall the cards or issue a permanent errata regarding Victory Dragon, they could do the next best thing — place it on the Banned List, which signified cards that must be limited or outright prohibited from being played due to their power.

In March of 2007, only two months after the Shonen Jump promo was released, Victory Dragon was moved onto the Forbidden section of the list (not permitted to be used in tournaments), where it has remained for the past 16 years. Cards are added and removed from the list frequently (some of the very cards that created the list have since returned to competitive play), but considering how much more fast-paced the game has become — and thus, how much faster Victory Dragon could appear on the battlefield — combined with it’s always-relevant effect, mean that it is safe to say the dragon will not be moved from its position there anytime soon. Despite the infamy of the card, it didn’t stop Konami from releasing more Match Winners — including new types of creatures who can be summoned through alternative methods, all of which sport the same ‘This Card Cannot Be Used In A Duel’ message.

While in recent times, tournaments have shifted to offering more interesting and flavorful prize cards, Match Winners — and Victory Dragon in particular — will always have a special place in the game’s history, if not for its status as the first of this bizarre and legendary line of cards, but for the headaches it caused players and judges during its reign. We suppose being able to leave a massive legacy in such a short time is a victory in itself.