The original Yu-Gi-Oh! Series was filled with tons of iconic moments, from Solomon Moto being trapped in a card to Yugi “attacking the moon”. But it also had a bunch of solid duelists, generally battling with crucial stakes on the line. Typically it was a player’s own life or their soul, but honestly for most of the important characters the stakes generally didn’t sink past “I have to win this tournament so my sister can have this crucially important operation”.

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Having said that, for this list we’re going to look at ten of the best duelists from the original Duel Monsters series and rank them according to how powerful they are, analyzing their decks and discussing their wins and their losses to assess the strongest among them.

10 BAKURA

Bakura spends most of his time in Yu-Gi-Oh serving as a background antagonist. Though the manga makes him far more terrifying, showing him killing both Bonz and Pegasus at one point or another, the anime tells a different story. Yami Bakura spends most of his time before elevating to the main antagonist of the last season serving as fodder for one person or another to beat. He’s good, evidenced by him making it to the quarterfinals of Battle City, but never quite good enough. Especially since he’s usually boasting underhanded tricks and still manages to lose handily.

9 DARTZ

Dartz is the primary antagonist of the Waking the Dragons arc, and also the immortal king of Atlantis, because even ageless rulers of lost civilizations have time for duels. As the primary villain of a filler arc, we don’t ever get to see Dartz do very much because he’s too busy allowing his henchman to do the work for him. Still, he takes on Yugi and Kaiba, two of the strongest duelists in the series in a two on one match for their souls (because of the power of his Orichalcos card). He even manages to defeat Kaiba, taking his soul. But he still loses to Yami Yugi in the end.

8 RAFAEL

Rafael is the strongest member of Doma, the organization run by Dartz and made up of several key duelists from past arcs attempting to take over the world. He utilizes the powers of the Guardian deck (including well-known cards like Guardian Dreadscythe and Guardian Eatos) to lead him to a couple victories over the course of the series, including a victory over Mai Valentine and Yami Yugi.

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Though he’s only got those two (shown) wins to his name, they’re some pretty important ones. While Rafael loses the rematch with Yami, even Dartz can’t actually manage to beat Yami Yugi, which arguably means he’s better than his own boss.

7 NOAH KAIBA

The true heir to the Kaiba fortune, Noah Kaiba was the primary villain of the Virtual World filler arc in Yu-Gi-Oh. Gozaburo placed his brain inside a computer after a horrible accident, and after spending years inside before becoming frustrated with his existence in a false reality, he decided to take his frustrations and rage out on his adopted brother Seto. Noah Kaiba dueled using a strategy which worked counter to his brothers, causing him to be able to deal life points while also constantly healing himself for massive amounts. Seto wasn’t even able to defeat Noah at all, instead handing things off to Yugi who was able to finish Noah in a single turn.

6 PEGASUS

Perhaps one of the greatest hams in anime history, Pegasus was nonetheless a credible threat throughout his time in the series. Responsible for creating the modern version of Duel Monsters, he has his own customized deck of Toon monsters that were never released or shown to the public.

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It’s this which makes him incredibly hard to strategize against, eventually leading to his defeat of Seto Kaiba in their match near the end of the Duelist Kingdom arc. Worse, Pegasus is in possession of the Millenium Eye, a magical item which allows him to see into anyone’s mind and know what cards they have in their hand.

5 MAI VALENTINE

Boasting the powerful Harpie Lady deck, Mai’s one of the few characters from the early Duelist Kingdom arc besides the leads who stands out in any meaningful way. Weevil, Rex, Bonz, eventually they all fade away into irrelevancy from a plot perspective. In both the Duelist Kingdom and Battle City, Mai proves herself a top tier duelist both times, finding her way into the higher levels of those tournaments. Mai even faces off against Yami Marik, and doesn’t merely hold her own, she actually would have won if not for a bunch of plot armor to manuever things towards a Marik vs. Yugi ending.

4 MARIK ISHTAR

Marik Ishtar starts out as the leader of the Rare Hunters, the antagonists of the Battle City arc who are responsible for tracking down the Egyptian God Cards. Over the course of his arc, Marik possesses several different duelists with a deck built specifically for taking down the object of his hatred, Yami Yugi. He starts with Bandit Keith’s machine deck, but from then on builds his decks personally—of specific note was the Revival Jam/Slifer five card combo when he possessed Strings that nearly defeated Yugi himself. But nearly doesn’t get the job done, and in the end Marik never proves himself capable of beating Yami.

3 JOEY WHEELER

Joey is something of an ascended normal in this series. Since Yugi is more often than not thrown into battles where defeat means certain death, he’s forced to be good from the start. Joey on the other hand is allowed to grow and gradually figure out how to be good. But by the halfway point of the series, his skill is no longer in question. His hodgepodge of a deck made up of luck based monsters and the monsters of opponent’s he defeated in the past led to him being in the semi-finals of both Duelist Kingdom and Battle City. Typically, the only time he ever loses is to an arc villain.

2 SETO KAIBA

Head of the Kaiba Corporation and the reason Duel Monsters is able to evolve beyond a simple game played with cards.  Kaiba transforms Duel Monsters into a massive industry, thanks to his company pioneering the use of Hard Light holograms. Kaiba’s natural abilities not just at dueling but at all games is incredible. He beats his adopted father, Gozaburo, at chess as a child, and only gets better from there. Like Joey, typically his losses come from arc villains rather than his own misplays. He’s even got a victory over Yami Yugi, even if it came through...very dubious means, it still counts. Sorta.

1 YUGI/YAMI YUGI

To begin with, Yami Yugi isn’t even supposed to lose duels. Literally, as assembling the Millenium Puzzle grants Yugi additional power to alter the course of a game by raising his chances of winning based on how important the duel is. This means Yugi’s all important Destiny Draws are typically the result of the Millenium Puzzle responding to his needs. But setting that aside, in addition to having the fewest number of losses, Yugi and the power of his Dark Magician deck has a victory over literally everyone else on the list. What else is there to expect from someone named the King of Games?

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