The Yu-Gi-Oh! anime is full of card game duelists. Some are niche or gimmicky like Mako Tsunami or Rex Raptor while others use ancient magical powers like Pegasus or Yugi. However, the best duelist in the entire series is none other than Joey Wheeler.
Joey may seem like he’s just a comic relief best friend character, but he’s actually the best there is at Duel Monsters. You might think that it’s Yugi since he’s the protagonist, but you’d be wrong. Yugi relies too heavily on the Pharaoh’s help and has access to literal God cards. Joey holds his one with the likes of the Flame Swordsman and Baby Dragon.
Characters like Yugi and Kaiba duel with God cards, the best cards that money can buy, or cards that are just plain overpowered. Joey, on the other hand, originally played with a deck of hand-me-down cards and almost no knowledge of the game. He managed to use that against professional duelists and become a runner up in the Duelist Kingdom tournament. He had a deck of random monster cards and still won against almost every adversary by making good decisions with what he had to work with.
During the Battle City tournament, Joey outskilled Yami Marik and would have defeated him if he hadn’t passed out. Joey, the guy who doesn’t use rare or expensive cards, proved he’s able to take down the magical big bad.
Joey doesn’t pay to win like Kaiba. He doesn’t rely on magic like Marik or Pegasus. He’s not an expert at the game like Mai. He put the most effort into learning the game and bettering himself over time.
Joey has competed against duelists with much better cards than he has, but he still manages to win and go further than them in tournaments because he thinks on his feet and finds a way around every threat using weaker monsters and better strategy.
Joey is the only duelist who managed to place in multiple major tournaments without cheating like Bandit Keith, being rich, or having magic powers. Because of this, he’s without a doubt the best duelist in Yu-Gi-Oh.