Yu-Gi-Oh! card game for classic anime viewers

Konstantinos Foutzopoulos

By mid 2000s Yu-Gi-Oh! had become huge in the west in part thanks to the Yu-Gi-Oh!, in Japan known as Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters, anime dubbed by 4Kids. Lots of kids grew up watching it, collecting cards, and playing the card game. Though new Yu-Gi-Oh! anime shows continued to be produced after the legendary Atem vs Yugi duel the viewer base was nowhere near the scale of the original1.

This was the time that many viewers played the game dropping it few years later. Wanting to check the state of the game, one and half decades later, with only knowledge being the game back then, this post will quickly explain mechanics and monsters introduced since. The canonical sources are the guides provided by Konami which provide an overview of the all the following. For in-depth information on the Yu-Gi-Oh! franchise, compiling multiple sources, there’s Yugipedia, a wiki2 written by fans.

Extra deck

The extra deck contains monsters that can be special summoned in the main monster zone and extra monster zone. The extra monster zone is shared for the two duelists but normally only one of the two positions can be used from each one. It replaced the fusion deck when synchro monster got introduced. Before then fusion and ritual monsters where the only monsters that could be special summoned. For reminder, fusion monsters require specific monsters, called fusion materials, and a fusion summoning card such as, the known from the anime, Polymerization(db). Ritual monsters are special summoned with a specific ritual summoning card. In contrast to fusion and all other special summoned monsters, ritual monster cards are placed in the main deck.


An evolution of traditional fusion was, the distinct from fusion summon, Contact Fusion(wiki), a type of built-in special summon. Requiring only the appropriate card in the extra deck and monsters on the field, it can be considered a precursor to synchro summon.

A Synchro Monster(wiki) can be synchro summoned from the extra deck by sending one Tuner monster and a number of other monsters to the graveyard if their sum (tuner and others) equals the synchro monster’s level. Some synchro monsters require a specific Tuner monster. The requirements for each are written in the card description text. Although summoning is normally done in main phase, some cards have effects that allow summoning to take place at time other than summoner’s main phase when the game state(wiki) is open.

Synchro-centric decks utilize numerous monsters for rapid power taking advantage of their summoning method. Though powerful they aren’t simple to play requiring balancing tuners and non-tuners. Although synchro-centric decks became popular, other decks remained relevant after they got introduced.

Synchro brought forth radical game changes shifting focus to the extra deck. Their history in the game, alongside some once popular strategies, is described a nice article on Cardmarket. The article concludes that synchro monsters are well represented in current format and still relevant.


A Xyz Monster(wiki) can be summoned whenever monsters of same level to its rank are controlled. Rank is the equivalent to level for those monsters. Since they’ve no level, they aren’t affected by level-dependent cards and effects. The required monsters for its summoning, called materials, are listed at its card description text. It is summoned by stacking the materials and placing the Xyz Monster atop of them.

Some Xyz Monster have effects that can take place by having materials detached, that is having at least one of its material is moved from the stack to the graveyard.

Some considered them broken due to their ease of summoning. They require no specific monsters, no extra spell card, no tuners, and even those having requirements are pretty generic. As such they’ve become a must in competitive setting (meta decks) yet no skill or effort or strategy was needed for their use. See https://redd.it/2gn4vt and https://redd.it/5f6qhw (threads on r/yugioh) for relevant discussions.


A monster/spell hybrid. A Pendulum Monster(wiki) can be summoned as monsters or activated like spell cards in the pendulum zone. Not all pendulum monsters have a spell or/and monster effect. They have a pendulum scale that determines what monster levels can be special summoned during a pendulum summon.

During the main phase a pendulum monster can be activated (one) in the leftmost and (one in the) rightmost spell & trap zone. These positions become the pendulum zone. After having one in each, pendulum summoning can take place. Then any number of monsters from hand and pendulum monsters from extra deck with level between (exclusive) the two pendulum ratings, called the pendulum scale, can be special summoned. Monster special summoned from the extra deck have to be placed to extra monster zone.

Pendulum monsters cannot be completely destroyed. Whenever one is sent from the field to the graveyard, it’s placed face-up in the extra deck instead. That means they can be re-used as normal.

Their utilization can be similar to synchros. Numerous monsters for rapid power. Their main weakness lies in their dependence to their scales. If the opponent cannot get rid of the scales they become a nuisance. Many consider them badly designed as they considerably speed up the game. Duels with them are win or lose in few turns. Nevertheless in competitive setting they’re considered underpowered compared to other types.

Because it allows to bring many monsters to the field, pendulum summoning can also be used to gather material for others forms of special summoning. Even decks that aren’t pendulum-centric can utilize the pendulum mechanic for that.

A Link Monster(wiki) applies effects that its lit-up red link arrows point to. The number of the arrows is equal to the number of monsters required to summon it. This number is called link rating. It is summoned from the extra deck by using the materials written at its card description text. They do not have DEF rating and can never be in defense position. Taking control of one moves it to the main monster zone and when it goes back this is the zone it goes to.

Link Monsters have to placed to the extra monster zone but they can be used to increase that number. Every main monster zone that has link pointed to it can function as an extra monster zone.

For few years after their introduction, every monster special summoned from the extra deck had to be summoned to an extra main zone. On a way their introduction nerfed Synchro, Xyz, and Pendulum summoning. They also introduced the need for strategic planning of where cards will be placed. The decision was nevertheless reverted last year for all extra decks summonings besides Pendulum and Link.

Their summoning makes it simpler to summon link monsters with increasingly higher link rating. Normally one monster is one link material, but when a Link Monster is used as link material this can be counted as one monster or the number of monsters equal to its link rating.


Besides mechanics, some rule changes have taken place. Most of them make sense and it is how someone with no prior knowledge of the game will’ve expected them to be.

  • The player who goes first cannot draw during the draw phase of the first turn. That is all players start with five cards.

  • The decks have limits at them. Main deck has to be 40 to 60 cards. Extra deck is limited to 15 cards. Side deck is limited to 15 cards.

  • Both players may control an active field spell card at the same time. A field card can be replaced by sending the currently active field card to the graveyard. The old card is not considered destroyed.

  • After a chain or summon has finished resolving, the turn player can only activate a fast effect before the opponent can.

  • If during the battle step the target is removed from the field or a new monster is placed onto opponent’s field before the damage step, a replay is caused. If another monster is chosen to attack, the first monster is still considered to have declared an attack.

  • A continuous trap card can have its quick-like effect activated at the same time as the card itself.

  • If game rules provide the required information to resolve effects, that effect is not allowed to be activated (illegal). Examples are hand and deck revelations or deck searches.

  • Monsters equipped to monsters are destroyed if the monster-equipping monster is destroyed.

  • The battle position of a monster that was played onto the field this turn cannot change.

  • Two attack position monsters with 0 ATK that battle each other are not destroyed.

Also keep in mind that some cards have their card texts updated. The cards that had their effects changed can be found on the official site.

Alternative formats

To me, an old (casual) player, the (few) rule updates make sense and the new mechanics, if it wasn’t for their splashability, seem interesting. But powercreep, although expected, seems to have become a significant problem. Especially with the numerous cards having some kind of negation effect, monsters combining effects that in past required two or more, and hand traps prevalence. Basically games now seem to boil down to who will draw the correct card first something that very often happens in first turn (too luck dependent).

In general, the game nowadays is much faster and complex than it used to be. Reading various comments, it seems the (official) Duel Links game is close to what the TCG used to be years ago. But even that is introducing the aforementioned mechanics.

The following alternative formats are unofficial community-driven formats that shift game focus and emphasize different concepts and skills to standard (current; referring to both advanced and traditional). Compared they’re practically a different game.


Goat refers to the format officially played during 2005’s summer, and is widely played today. It is named after the dominant deck of its era, about which there’s an in-depth article on YGOPRODECK about it. It uses the same card pool, ruleset, and banlist as back then. Its rules are basically the reverse of what mentioned in previous section.

There’re few reasons why someone would like to play this format. It rewards strategic skill as the winning position is achieved over a longer game. Although a static and smaller card pool is utilized a variety of styles are considered viable. On the other hand the less technical skill required, lack of aforementioned mechanics, smaller card variance in decks, and its static nature may be a turn off for some.

Similarly to Goat, there’re formats (also named after the dominant meta deck of their era) using card pool, ruleset, and banlist of other years. Those are less popular but they also have people playing them.


Nova is a classically-inspired format borrowing game ideas from Goat but exhibiting greater card diversity (yet having a drastically smaller card pool) and the Synchro and Xyz mechanics. The card pool was built from scratch chosen after a long list of guiding principles (refer to its site).

A lot of work seems to have go into it but it’s still young to become apparent for whether it really works or meta will end up being dominated by a handful decks as current. Also it appears to be relatively unknown.


Rather changing the card pool or choosing an older year banlist, Trinity introduces an unlimited, semi-forbidden and co-forbidden card list and modifies the standard ruleset with few additional rules.

  • Neither player can normal or special summon effect monsters more than 3 times each turn. This doesn’t refer to the number of monsters but the act of summoning.

  • By default there can be only one copy of each card in the decks. Unbound cards are excepted to 3 copies. Those are normal or non-effect monsters, cards that reference themselves, and cards that share a name.

  • The minimum main deck size is reduced to 30. The upper limit remains.

  • For every 5 cards above the minimum main deck size, that deck may include 1 extra unlimited card or 1 semi-forbidden (one-point) card or 2 co-forbidden (half-point) cards.

Trinity has an active player base and a dynamic nature in contrast to previous-years alternative formats. The rules introduce an extra tactical consideration and games become lengthier compared to standard.


A guide is provided on r/Yugioh101 at https://redd.it/edjjit with information for new and returning players. This post can be thought as covering section 2 in this guide, alongside some extra information.

On YGOPRODEK, Meepmoto27 has written a series of posts covering extensively the metagame from the game’s inception up to recent years[1][2][3][4][5]. Synchro, Xyz, and Pendulum are covered in third, fourth, and fifth post respectively.

Finally it worths noting how Yu-Gi-Oh!, an eternal format trading card game, has survived and remained playable for that long. Other games, such as the also popular Magic, have a rotation format that only cards in sets released within a span of few years are (tournament) playable. Something that allows a better fine-tuning. In contrast in Yu-Gi-Oh! old cards can interact with new ones in ways that the designers weren’t expecting. Something that is also interesting although not that important in this era.

  1. In this post original refers to the Duel Monsters anime. There was a Yu-Gi-Oh! anime before this where card games weren’t the focus. 

  2. A fork of the original, unfortunately still higher in search results, wiki hosted on Fandom (formerly Wikia) done by the original’s admins, supported by its community and the (unofficial) YGOrganization