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Top 6 Strongest Duelists in Yu-Gi-Oh

Updated on May 30, 2017
Jeremy Gill profile image

Jeremy often plays Yu-Gi-Oh and other card games in-between studying forensics and working part-time at his college.

Yu-Gi-Oh

While I recommend watching each Yu-Gi-Oh series in Japanese with English subtitles (trust me, it's much better), the original season still managed to gather flocks of fans. Back in those days, Yu-Gi-Oh was still figuring out its rules and had yet to develop cards like Synchro or Xyz monsters.

A worldwide phenomenon, even non-fans could recognize characters and cards from the anime. Which duelists reigned supreme? These are the six best original duelists!

Mai Valentine
Mai Valentine

6. Mai Valentine

Style: Harpie Swarming

Harpies have continued to receive support throughout the years, making them a surprisingly effective modern option. Mai only had access to the original cards, and while her win record is shaky, she has pulled off some impressive victories.

  • Defeated Joey Wheeler (she's lost to him too)
  • Defeated Maximillion Pegasus
  • Should have beaten Yami Marik


Mai defeated former villain Pegasus and would have defeated Yami Marik except for a plot convenient technicality: after obtaining his famed Winged Dragon of Ra, she couldn't use it because (in the anime) its owner has to read Egyptian text.

Mai's deck focuses on summoning multiple Harpies and boosting them with appropriate Equip Spells. She later adds the powerful Seal of Orichalcos to her repertoire, providing an automatic 500 Attack boost to her monsters.

Rafael
Rafael

5. Rafael

Style: Guardian Equip

Not the most prominent character, Rafael nonetheless showed great aptitude with two impressive wins:

  • Beat Mai Valentine
  • Beat Yami Yugi


That's right, Rafael was a reminder that our protagonist wasn't quite invincible, and is one of only two people to fairly defeat Yami Yugi. Yami eventually won the rematch they had, but even that was a forfeit on his part; jury's out on who would have won had the contest continued.

Rafael's deck emphasizes summoning Guardian monsters and bolstering them with Equip Spells.

Yami Marik
Yami Marik

4. Yami Marik

Style: Effect damage and Graveyard-reclamation of Ra

Often cited as the series' greatest villain, Marik wields the famous Winged Dragon of Ra. In real life, the God Cards are downgraded to make them actually fair, but my goodness is that thing a monster in the anime.

  • Beat Mai Valentine
  • Beat Joey Wheeler
  • Beat Yami Bakura


Marik's unusual in that his most impressive duel is the one he actually lost. While Marik defeated Joey and Mai thanks to flukes, the reverse happened with Yugi, where Marik technically lost but only because he forfeited. Had things played their course, Marik would have been one of very few to defeat Yami Yugi.

His cards disrupt the opponent by dealing effect damage, lowering their monster's Attack, and forcing them to discard. He of course wields the formidable Egyptian God Ra, and also runs cards to revive Ra from the Graveyard.

Joey Wheeler
Joey Wheeler

3. Joey Wheeler

Style: Luck-based beatdown

I know I'll catch some flack for this because Joey admittedly loses several duels, but he also pulls off some surprisingly impressive wins. In fact, series creator Kazuki Takahashi considers Kaiba and Yami Yugi weak when compared to Joey, likely due to his caring and brave nature. Additionally, Maximillion Pegasus once rated Joey as the world's third best duelist behind Kaiba and Yugi.

  • Defeated Mai Valentine
  • Defeated Marik, but lost due to a plot-convenient technicality
  • Implied to have beaten Yugi once


Joey's deck evolves throughout the series, but he typically uses Warrior-typed monsters, occasional Fusions, and many luck-based cards with huge payoffs if fortune favors him. His signature cards include Time Wizard and Red-Eyes Black Dragon.

Though somewhat spotty, Joey is truly formidable when playing at his best.

Seto Kaiba
Seto Kaiba

2. Seto Kaiba

Style: Blue-Eyes beatdown

The arrogant and self-assured Seto Kaiba wins a vast majority of his matches. While Kaiba has yet to fairly defeat Yugi, he's attained more than his fair share of wins. Here are some of his best:

  • Defeated Joey Wheeler (multiple times)
  • Defeated Ishizu Ishtar
  • Defeated Yamu Yugi (through cheating)

After the Battle City arc, Kaiba dueled less and less, but Battle City was by far the most popular arc anyway. Kaiba's skill and haughtiness made him the classic jerk rival for Yugi and Joey, and his near-limitless funds ensure he always has an impressive assortment of formidable cards.

In the early days of Yu-Gi-Oh, beatdown strategies were common, and Kaiba takes advantage by brandishing several powerful Fiend and Dragon monsters. His most famous cards are the Blue-Eyes White Dragon and the Egyptian God Obelisk the Tormentor.

Yami Yugi
Yami Yugi

1. Yugi Moto/ Yami Yugi

Style: Versatile Magicians

Technically these guys are two separate people, but they're fused together for the vast majority of the show. Like any good hero, Yugi wins by rocking a ridiculously implausible hairstyle and letting his cooler alter-ego handle the heavy lifting. He's won just about every match he enters, and here are some of his best:

  • Defeated Seto Kaiba (multiple times)
  • Defeated Joey Wheeler
  • Defeated pretty much everyone


As tough as Yugi and Yami are, they have lost in fair fights before, but never without also claiming a victory in a subsequent rematch. In Yu-Gi-Oh GX, Yugi also duels protagonist Jaden, but the result of the match is never revealed.

Yugi's deck evolves over time, but he consistently utilizes Fiend and Spellcaster cards. His two signature monsters are the Dark Magician and the God Card Slifer the Sky Dragon.

Which duelist is your favorite?

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Yu-Gi-Oh has cheesy cliques of characters and an unfinished rule format, but it somehow managed to captivate millions of people across the world. Is it a "good" show? Probably not. But is it fun? It definitely has its moments, and helped usher in a phenomenal real-life card game.

Vote for your favorite duelist, and I'll see you at our countdown of the best duelists in the next series: Yu-Gi-Oh GX! And trust me, you really, really want to watch that subbed, not dubbed.

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    • Jeremy Gill profile image
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      Jeremy Gill 6 weeks ago from Louisiana

      @as140

      The implication isn't the strongest, but it's there. Here's a quick explanation from the Yu-Gi-Oh wiki:

      "Later on, Joey met up with Yugi for a Duel they promised each other. Joey claimed he was going to win back his 'Red-Eyes Black Dragon'. The Duel's result was not shown, but Joey did use that card in later arcs, which means he may have won it back."

    • profile image

      as140 7 weeks ago

      @Jeremy: It was never implied Joey had beaten Yugi. Obviously he is weaker than Kaiba. He might have had a draw with Yugi, but in no way beaten him.

      Also I want to point out that in the movie, Kaiba would have won if the duel wasn´t interrupted.

    • Jeremy Gill profile image
      Author

      Jeremy Gill 2 months ago from Louisiana

      Kenneth, Joey is stronger than most people think. In the direct anime sequel, Yu-Gi-Oh GX, Pegasus himself lists Joey as the third best duelist of all time (after Yugi and Kaiba).

      It's also implied Joey's beaten Yugi; don't think he couldn't hold his own in a match against Rafael.

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      Kenneth 2 months ago

      Nidakiwe, in what world would Joey win a duel against Rafeal