Duel monsters is serious business. The untrained eye might perceive it as a simple, children's card game, but in actuality it is a strategic game with various spell and trap cards that can send a duel spiraling in any direction. Add to that the fact that the show had numerous duels where the stakes included sending the loser's soul to the shadow realm, the game has very serious repercussions for these characters lives. Things started simple for duel monsters, with players just putting cards on a table, but holographic technologically developed to the point where people can have duels anywhere they want and see virtual monsters appear right in front of them (hopefully Apple is taking notes for next year's Keynote presentation).
Despite all the chance that comes to play in the game, some duelers are just better than others. Throughout the series' lifespan, audiences saw the main characters enter multiple tournaments as well as compete with random people in different parts of the world. As a result of that, there have been quite a few strong duelists introduced and some who don't seem to grasp the game at all. Give a good duelist a weak deck and they can still come out victorious, but give an amateur an expert deck and they will have no idea what to do.
Without further ado, come learn about the 8 Strongest (and 7 Weakest) Duelists in Yu-Gi-Oh!
15 Strongest: Mai Valentine
Mai Valentine may be designed as eye candy for the show's world, but she has some incredible skills to back up her looks. Thanks to her Harpy themed deck, Valentine has defeated everyone from Joey Wheeler to Maximillion Pegasus. She has no problems making at least the semi-finals in every tournament she enters and has proven herself to be an extremely empathetic character. Even though she makes fun of Yugi and his friends sometimes, especially Joey, she has demonstrated multiple times that she truly cares for all of them.
Unfortunately, she is manipulated into joining a dark organization called Doma and performs actions that she later regrets. After breaking away from their control, Valentine decides to step away from duel monsters and reevaluate her life.
14 Weakest: Tristan Taylor
Tristian Taylor is a great friend to Yugi, Joey and Tea, but he's no duelist. Instead of entering the tournament during the show's first season, he and Tea sneak on a boat and follow their friends along on the adventure. In a shadow duel against Bakura on Duelist Kingdom, Tristian is transformed into his favorite duel monster, the Cyber Commander. It makes sense that Taylor, a weak duelist, would favor a monster with a measly 750 attack points. Even though he doesn't play duel monsters, he's never expressed an interest in anything else; he's just happy to be on the sidelines cheering his friends along.
The most entertaining subplot that revolved around him included him developing a crush on Joey Wheeler's sister. Nothing upsets a friend group quite like starting to date someone's younger sister!
13 Strongest: Noah Kaiba
Noah Kaiba, a younger brother Seto Kaiba didn't even know he had, is one heck of a duelist who likes building up big life point leads that are hard for his opponents to overcome. Noah was the antagonist in the Virtual World season, a story that was never in the original manga, and has one heck of an ego. Due to a car accident that left his body badly injured, his father uploaded his mind in a virtual world. After biding his time for years, he finally lashes out in the hopes of inhabiting Seto's body.
Yami Yugi is only able to defeat him by using his and Seto's cards in tandem. If Seto hadn't been there, it's very likely that Noah would have a higher ranking and be on the exclusive list of duelists who have defeated the king of games, Yugi Moto.
12 Weakest: Weevil Underwood
Weevil Underwood is presented to the audience as a champion duelist, he even wins a tournament in the show's first episode, but he never wins another match for the rest of the series. The insect themed duelist's name in the Japanese version of the show is Haga, which directly translates to Winged Moth.
He may like bugs, but he's a bit of a snake. In the first season, Underwood asked to examine Yugi's deck and threw all of his cards, including the five pieces of Exodia, into the ocean. Luckily Joey Wheeler proved himself to be a good friend and jumped in to save the cards, but the whole series could have turned out differently if his attempted sabotage worked out. Karma bit Underwood in the butt though when Yugi defeated him in the first round of the Duelist Kingdom tournament and sent him home.
11 Strongest: Joey Wheeler
Joey Wheeler is the every man of the Yu-Gi-Oh! world. He starts out as a weak duelist, but over the years he grows into a champion and bonafide underdog hero. More often than not he's the butt of the joke in the show, but he's an extremely skilled duelist who has no problem rolling with the punches. He's an extremely loyal friend who has no problem risking his life to fight for his friends. At the end of the show's first season, he even comes close to defeating Yugi in the semi-finals of the Duelist Kingdom tournament.
Since so many tournaments include winning the losing duelists best card, Wheeler has stacked his basic deck over the years. Thanks to his victories, he gets to use powerful cards like Jinzo, Red Eyes Black Dragon and the Legendary Fisherman.
10 Weakest: Bakura Ryou
Bakura Ryou is a friend of Yugi and the rest of the supporting characters, but he's not necessarily a part of the core group. Even though he's nice, he's pretty shady. Regardless of the fact he wasn't invited to participate in the Duelist Kingdom tournament, he stowed away on the boat to the island and took place in the festivities. He's never given a signature duel monster that defines his deck, but he sure loves the spell card "Change of Heart" that lets the user take control of an enemy's monster for one turn.
Yami Bakura. on the other hand, is a great duelist. Whenever Bakura is under the influence of his Millenium Ring, he transforms into Bakura the Bandit King, the rival of Yami Yugi when he was Pharaoh of Ancient Egypt. While Yugi and Atem have a close relationship, Bakura is completely shut out when the Bandit King is scheming.
9 Strongest: Marik Ishtar
Most of the villains in the Yu-Gi-Oh! have ties to ancient Egypt, and Marik Ishtar is no different. Marik Ishtar is a strong duelist in his own right, but when you add Yami Marik into the mix, the world is in a whole lot of trouble.
Ishtar is the founder of a group called the Rare Hunters, essentially a group of thugs who go around trying to collect legendary cards. In addition to collecting rare cards, he's even bootlegged a few powerful beasts, including the five pieces of Exodia. He was brought in as the villain for the Battle City season right after the Egyptian God Cards were introduced to the series as he searched for the last one. He and Yami Bakura plot together to try to take down Yami Yugi, but nothing they do takes our spiky-haired hero down.
8 Weakest: Grandpa
Grandpa is one of the most entertaining and simultaneously useless supporting characters. Solomon Moto used to be an Egyptian architect with a gambling problem, but now he just owns the local game shop. He's the one who gave Yugi the Millennium Puzzle, the ancient artifact that contained Atem's soul locked inside,
He has a basic understanding of the game and is shown playing competently later in the series, but his loss to Seto Kaiba in the first episode of the series distinguishes him as an amateur. It's one thing to lose to Kaiba, a champion, but to gamble your best card in the process is pretty silly. It makes sense that when Yugi and his friends finally find him after the duel, he's sprawled out on the floor as if he just suffered a terrible accident.
7 Strongest: Maximillion Pegasus
Maximillion Pegasus is one of Yu-Gi-Oh's most complex, and silly, villains. Still in love with his diseased wife, Pegasus descends down a dark path and even kidnaps children all in the hopes of eventually bringing her back. Despite his darkness, he relies on a deck of cards that reminds him of the cartoons he watched as a child.
Even though he originally wanted to be an artist, Pegasus went on to create the entire game of duel monsters based on similar, ancient Egyptian games. As a result of this, he has certain cards that were never released to the public and an intimate knowledge of the best and worst strategies. At the end of the day, his skill is supplmented thanks to his Millennium Eye, an artifact that grants him the ability to see into people's minds and predict their next moves. He even scribbled out a list of directions for a young boy on how to defeat Bandit Keith, a world champion, in a tournament.
6 Weakest: One of the Paradox Brothers
The Paradox Brothers -literally named Para and Dox- are essentially hired enforcers for Maximillion Pegasus on Duelist Kingdom. To make sure weak duelists don't reach the semi-finals of the tournament, the Paradox Brothers set up an elaborate, underground arena to challenge opponents right before they reach Pegasus' castle.
At the end of the day though, these two duelists are co-dependent on each other. Take one out of the equation and their strength disappears. The two times the characters have been shown (they also made an appearance in the later Yu-Gi-Oh! GX spinoff) their strategy revolves around summoning the Gate Guardian. Without certain cards from each other's decks, the brothers would be nothing more than amateur duelists with cards they can't use.
5 Strongest: Seto Kaiba
Seto Kaiba knows two things and two things only, how to make money and play duel monsters. Okay, he definitely has other skills, but he is an incredible duelist who has crafted a deck unlike any other. Not only does Kaiba have the Blue-Eyes White Dragon at his disposal, he wields Obelisk The Tormentor, one of three legendary, Egyptian god cards. He's kind of a smug guy who has no problem showing his distaste for people around him, but Kaiba has helped save the world a few times thanks to his dueling abilities. He's not all bad though since we see him going to incredible lengths and risking his own life to save his younger brother Mokuba.
Even though Yami Yugi has defeated him multiple times, Kaiba is one of the few duelists to defeat the star of the show.
4 Weakest: Bonz
It may be weird to say this because Bonz is a candidate in a few duel monsters tournaments, but he sucks. No matter how hard he tries, he never seems to improve or prove himself. One of Bandit Keith's lackeys, Bonz has to borrow a few cards from Keith to even make his zombie themed deck competitive. Despite the boost, he lost to Joey when he was still an amateur duelist himself and never earned a win for the rest of the series. After the loss, Keith beats him and his friends up to steal their stars and enter the Tournament finals himself.
His fate at the end of the series is left a mystery. In a duel with Yami Bakura in season two, Bonz loses all his locator cards and is sent to the shadow realm. Even though there are a few more seasons in the original Yu-Gi-Oh! series, Bonz was never shown again.
3 Strongest: Rafael
Rafael is a member of Doma, an ancient, generic organization that aims to take over the world. The sole survivor of a family yacht trip that went horribly wrong, Rafael has lived a mysterious life. Stranded without many possessions, he grew to cherish his duel monster cards during his tough childhood. He still uses that same, worn deck he had with him as a kid and still worships the Guardian monsters he envisioned on the island. We don't see him duel too many times, but he was shown defeating Mai Valentine and he's one of the few duelists who beats Yami Yugi in the series.
Dartz may lead Doma, but he's never able to defeat Yugi so he's not as impressive at the end of the day.
2 Weakest: Tea Gardner
Tea Gardner is the heart of the friend group. She stands by and cheers for Yugi and Joey at their lowest moments and is sent into a virtual world alongside them. Near the beginning of the series, she defeated Joey quite a few times, but he was pretty terrible at that point. While everyone else is focused on card games, Gardner is focused on being a dancer. It's not that she's terrible at the game, she knows the rules, she just doesn't care. She's still a good character though and her relationship with Atem in the show's later seasons is enjoyable to watch as they become closer friends.
Sure, she technically defeated Mai Valentine at the end of the first season, but she surrendered just to help poor Yugi after his stars were stolen in Pegasus's Tournament.
1 Strongest: Yugi/Atem
This might be somewhat of a cop-out, but Yugi and Atem are tied for the best duelists. Throughout the series Atem may do most of the the heavy lifting when it comes to serious battles, but Yugi is always right there with him consulting on strategy. The two of them have overcome countless enemies and even saved the world together. It seems like no matter what threat they face in a match, there's a card in their deck that can handle it.
The two of them dueled once at the end of the Duel Monsters series. Yugi was clearly paying attention over all those years, because he took Atem's lessons and best the Pharaoh at the classic card game. Despite this, they are still tied because if Yugi had played in certain matches throughout the series instead of Atem, it's likely they would have lost and both of them could have been sent to the shadow realm.
What do you guys think of these duel rankings? Hit the comment section to share if you think we forgot about anyone!