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Top 10 Card Evolutions (Retrained Monsters) in Yu-Gi-Oh

Jeremy enjoys dueling in between working as a chemical analyst and campus building manager.

What are Card Evolutions in Yu-Gi-Oh?

No silly, we're not playing Pokemon. Card evolutions, also called retrained monsters, are cards that are basically updated versions of prior monsters with better, modernized effects. They usually share the same ATK, DEF, level, and have similar names to their original incarnations.

Not to be confused with "upgraded monsters", who wield higher battle stats than their default forms, card evolutions keep fan favorites relevant in the competitive arena by reprinting old classics in superior editions. But with dozens of evolved cards available, which transformations improve the most upon the original?

Taking into account both their raw abilities as well as the degree of improvement, these are the ten best card evolutions in Yu-Gi-Oh!

  • Elemental HERO Honest Neos
  • Harmonizing Magician
  • Archfiend Black Skull Dragon
  • Curse of Dragonfire
  • Ultimate Conductor Tyranno
  • Cocoon of Ultra Evolution
  • Red-Eyes Baby Dragon
  • Arisen Gaia the Fierce Knight
  • Meteor Black Comet Dragon
  • Dark Magician of Chaos

10. Elemental HERO Honest Neos

Evolved from: Elemental HERO Neos

Elemental HERO Honest Neos takes one of the game's most outdated normal monsters and tosses in some of the infamously-useful Honest card's abilities. Despite being protagonist Jaden Yuki's archetype in the GX anime, the HERO monsters never dominated competitive play and were a rather weak series whose best fusion monsters were still falling short since employing them drastically drained the hand. And as a level 7, the original Neos took two tributes to normal summon but wielded only 2500 ATK.

Without any effects, Neos was really only useful for fusion summons, and even there, the deck just wasn't worth it. Enter the metamorphosized Honest Neos, sharing Neos's warrior type, battle stats, and level 7, but wielding two sweet effects. You can discard him from your hand on either turn to increase the ATK of a HERO you control by 2500 until the end of the turn, and from your field, you can (once per turn) discard a HERO monster to increase Honest Neos's ATK by that of the discarded monster's for the rest of the turn. Not enough to salvage the series in official tournaments, but, alongside other modern supports, certainly enough to give them a fighting chance to earn a few wins.

9. Harmonizing Magician

Evolved from: Tuning Magician

Harmonizing Magician belongs to the powerful pendulum Magician series, who remain prominent even with the extra deck limitation rules that debuted alongside link summoning. Despite bearing 0 ATK and 0 DEF, Harmonizing wields a (desirably) high pendulum scale of 8, pendulum summoning up to level 7 monsters when paired with a lower scale. Additionally, her handy pendulum ability increases the ATK and DEF of all monsters you control by 100 for each face-up pendulum Magician with a different name in your extra deck, and when initially pendulum summoned from your hand, she summons any pendulum monster from your deck in defense position!

That said, the pulled monster has its effects negated and is banished when it leaves the field, but this is an awesome ability that summons extra monsters while keeping your hand stocked. And since Harmonizing is a level 4 tuner, she provides access to many powerful synchro and xyz monsters. Original form Tuning Magician is also a tuner, and could revive itself from the graveyard under certain conditions, but summoning it actually made you lose 400 life points and handed them to your opponent. Harmonizing provides the synchro support (and some pendulum abilities) without the self-mutilation drawback.

8. Archfiend Black Skull Dragon

Evolved from: B. Skull Dragon

Original card B. Skull Dragon bears a fierce 3200 ATK, but requires two specific material monsters and has no effects, making it a one-trick beatstick that's hard to summon. Luckily, updated version Archfiend Black Skull Dragon serves as one of the best supports for the Red-Eyes series. Not only does it bear easier summoning conditions (accepting any level 6 Archfiend normal monster and any Red-Eyes normal monster), Black Skull enjoys two brutal effects.

Whenever it battles, Black Skull prevents your opponent from activating cards or effects until the end of the damage step, a sturdy shield that protects against counters like Mirror Force or other nasty surprises Additionally, at the end phase of a turn where this fusion summoned card was involved in damage calculation, you can target a Red-Eyes normal monster in your graveyard, inflict damage to your opponent equal to its ATK, then shuffle it into your deck. This formidable burn often lands a whopping 2400 extra pain, and since you consume a Red-Eyes monster for Black Skull's summon, you should have at least one ready in your graveyard to use as fuel.

7. Curse of Dragonfire

Evolved from: Curse of Dragon

Originally, Curse of Dragon was an absolutely underwhelming creature. As a level 5, he needs a sacrifice to tribute summon, but wields only 2000 ATK, easily eclipsed by just about any other tribute monster, even back in the dawn of dueling.

Thankfully, Curse of Dragonfire provides two simple and potent boons to enrich the normal monster. While the comparatively-low battle stats are still present, when normal or special summoned, Curse of Dragonfire lets you destroy a field spell. The game contains plenty of formidable dueling arenas, and almost all decks employ at least once, meaning the ability will rarely be wasted. Additionally, Curse of Dragon lets you use it and other monsters you control to fusion summon any appropriate fusion monster! This can access even nondragon behemoths and saves you the trouble of having to draw and spend a fusion spell.

6. Ultimate Conductor Tyranno

Evolved from: Super Conductor Tyranno, Ultimate Tyranno

Arguably dueling's ultimate dinosaur monster, Ultimate Conductor Tyranno drew inspiration from the two ancient reptiles listed above. While neither was terrible, especially during their debut, today they can't hold a torch to Ultimate Conductor's amazing traits.

He's special summoned by banishing two dinosaurs from your graveyard, and once per turn (during either player's main phase), he lets you destroy a monster in your hand or field, and if you do, change all opposing monsters to face-down defense position. This blends perfectly with Ultimate's next traits: he can attack all monsters your opponent controls once each, and when battling a defense position monster, you can (before damage calculation) send that monster to the graveyard and inflict 1000 damage to your opponent! This astounding combo lets you change opposing monsters to vulnerable positions, then slice through as many as you can, netting 1000 damage for each. Just remember that link monsters can't enter defense mode since they lack DEF scores, but even then, Ultimate Conductor can just rampage right through 'em.

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5. Cocoon of Ultra Evolution

Evolved from: Cocoon of Evolution

Cocoon of Ultra Evolution evolved (shocker) from a monster, but it's actually a spell. Working especially well with the Inzektor archetype, Ultra Evolution lets you tribute an insect monster from either field that's equipped with an equip spell, then you can special summon an insect from your deck, but with the rare trait of ignoring its summoning conditions! Additionally, you can banish this card from your graveyard during your main phase to shuffle an insect from your graveyard into your deck, then draw a card, a useful draw engine that lets Ultra Evolution serve even after being activated or discarded.

The monster it's based on, Cocoon of Evolution, was an underwhelming insect monster from YGO's origins. Its 2000 DEF was decent, but 0 ATK and the lack of any effects outside a negligible equip ability on Petit Moth quickly revealed its lackluster powers. Thankfully, its modern-day magic evolution demonstrates much more power for bug-brandishing builds.

4. Red-Eyes Baby Dragon

Evolved from: Baby Dragon

Baby Dragon was an original normal monster who could be summoned without tributes, but with only 1200 ATK and no effects, there was little point. Even being a specific material for certain fusion monsters couldn't save the lackluster card.

Many years later, Konami transformed Baby Dragon into Red-Eyes Baby Dragon. Simply carrying the Red-Eyes name qualifies this monster for several archetype-dependent effects, and when destroyed by battle, you can special summon a level 7 or lower Red-Eyes from your monster and equip Red-Eyes Baby Dragon to it! Not only does this pull a fierce beast from your deck, but the equipped monster also gains 300 ATK. In addition, if Red-Eyes Baby Dragon is sent to the graveyard while equipped, you can add a level 1 dragon monster from your deck to your hand, an extra boost that really cements this card as one of the best utility monsters available.

3. Arisen Gaia the Fierce Knight

Evolved from: Gaia the Fierce Knight
Other Evolutions:

  • Charging Gaia the Fierce Knight
  • Lord Gaia the Fierce Knight
  • Swift Gaia the Fierce Knight

If you thought 2500 ATK on a level 7 was bad, try the 2300 of original normal monster Gaia the Fierce Knight, a paltry sum that was eclipsed even by several one-tribute units. Luckily, throughout the years, Gaia received not one, not two, but four evolved cards, my favorite being Arisen Gaia the Fierce Knight. If your opponent controls more monsters than you, you can normal summon him without tributing, perfectly circumventing the original's high-tribute cost, and when tributed (not tribute summoned), you can summon a "Black Luster Soldier" monster (any of the variants) from your hand or graveyard.

You can only use these effects once per turn, but you're also able to banish Arisen Gaia from your graveyard as one of the tributes for the ritual summon of a Black Luster Soldier ritual monster. What else can I say? An easy summon condition, sweet tribute effect, and ritual graveyard access make Arisen a versatile and formidable foe who far outshines his ancestor.

2. Meteor Black Comet Dragon

Evolved from: Meteor B. Dragon

Similarly to Archfiend Black Skull Dragon, Meteor Black Comet Dragon evolved from a card that was powerful (3500 ATK!), but needed two specific materials to play (not to mention a fusion spell). A monster's only as strong as how often you can actually play it, and even if you successfully summon Meteor B. Dragon, its lack of effects still disappoint.

Meteor Black Comet Dragon alleviates both issues. It's easier to summon since it now accepts any level 7 Red-Eyes monster and any level 6 dragon-type, letting multiple cards serve as material. Even better, when fusion summoned, you can send a Red-Eyes monster from your hand or deck to the graveyard and inflict damage to your opponent equal to half the sent card's ATK, a brutal burn that can land 1200 or more indirect damage. Additionally, when Meteor Black heads to the graveyard from the monster zone (through any means), it can revive a normal monster from your graveyard, a great way to put your sent Red-Eyes to good use.

1. Dark Magician of Chaos

Evolved from: Magician of Black Chaos

Despite some awesome artwork, ritual monster Magician of Black Chaos had no effects and wielded only 2800 ATK. This isn't the worst battle stat, but why work so hard (needing a ritual spell, monster, and tributes) to summon a beatstick when others like Blue-Eyes White Dragon were so much more accessible?

Luckily, Dark Magician of Chaos corrected the problem. Unlike his inspiration, he's a simple effect monster, and his forbidden powers long landed him on the banned list, but (as of this writing) he's unlimited in competitive play! Wielding the same 2800 ATK and level 8, he'll need two tributes unless you gimmick him to the field, but when either normal or special summoned, you get to reclaim a spell from your graveyard, a phenomenal entrance effect that increases your hand even if he's immediately met with a counter like Bottomless Trap Hole. Plus, any monster he destroys is banished instead of sent to the graveyard.

With high ATK, great spell reclamation, and card removal, Dark Magician of Chaos is simply one of the game's strongest monsters. Throw in the fact that he bears the "Dark Magician" and "Chaos" names, qualifying for several series-specific effects, and you've got one heck of a versatile champion that I recommend for almost any deck list, especially spellcaster assortments; you're simply not going to find an easy way to reclaim spells. But despite his age and power, you can obtain your own copy for surprisingly cheap prices less than two dollars!

The Future of Evolving Cards

Fans love older cards for their nostalgic memories and for seeing them used in the anime, but unfortunately, most inevitably lag behind the current meta in terms of usefulness. Luckily, Konami periodically reinvents classics into fresh representations that can keep up with the increased speed of dueling.

With more evolved monsters (and even spells and traps) arriving in every expansion, the future looks bright and promises new rebirths of aging fan favorites. But for now, as we eagerly await Konami's next set of retrained monsters, vote for your favorite upgrade, and I'll see you at our next Yu-Gi-Oh countdown!

© 2018 Jeremy Gill

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