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Yu-Gi-Oh! 101

We’ve all heard of this classic card game and the hit anime show, but not a lot of people know how to play it, so let me give you the basics.


First, you and your opponent have to decide who goes first. You can do this by rock paper scissors, rolling dice or some other method you’ve agreed upon. You both start out with eight thousand Life Points and draw five cards from your deck with the win condition being to reduce the opposing side’s life point to zero. You do this by attacking them with your “Monsters” or via card “effects” (what the cards say they do are their effects). A deck must have 40 to 60 cards. 

There are six “phases” in a player’s turn: Draw Phase (DP), Standby Phase (SP), Main Phase (MP), Battle Phase (BP), Main Phase 2 (MP2) and End Phase (EP). Do not be disturbed by all these terms because all you need to know right now are DP, MP and BP. You enter a phase by declaring it. A player enters DP at the beginning of their turn, where they must draw a card. MP is when you are able to play the majority of your cards. BP is when you can attack your opponent’s monster or your opponent. Since going first is a huge advantage, the player going first cannot draw during DP and they cannot conduct BP. Monsters can attack the turn they are summoned, but they cannot attack the opponent if they also have monsters on the field. Monsters with higher attack points will destroy one with a lower attack in battle, and the difference between these attack points will be inflicted as “battle damage” to the losing side’s Life Points.

Card types

There are three types of cards in this game: Monsters, Spells and Traps. Each type has their own subtypes, but you will stop reading this article if I spell them all out. The basic idea is as follows:

Monsters: These are the minions you control to do battle with your opponent, such as the famous “Dark Magician” and “Blue Eyes White Dragon.” Monsters have levels ranging from one to 12, but you can only play monsters with level one to four straight away without cost—this is called a Normal Summon. For other monsters, you will need to “tribute” monsters that you’ve summoned before as cost—this is called a Tribute Summon. You can only choose to perform, only once per turn, either one type of summoning and not the other. However, there is another type of summoning called Special Summoning, which can be performed as many times as possible. You do so by meeting specific requirements listed by certain cards, an example of which is “Cyber Dragon”: it can be Special Summoned from your hand if only your opponent controls at least one monster.

Spells: These are nifty tools to help you advance your own game state or impede your opponent’s. For example, “Monster Reborn” lets you revive you or your opponent’s monster. There’s no restriction on how many Spells you can play per turn as long as you meet their requirements for activation. 

Traps: These are disruptive traps that prevent your opponent from making plays. They have to be set face down on the field (meaning the back of the card will be facing up) for a turn before they can be activated. They are generally meant to be activated on your opponent’s turn, and a lot of them have very powerful effects, such as “Mirror Force,” which destroys all monsters in attack position when your opponent declares an attack. Like Spells, there are no restrictions on how many traps can be activated per turn provided you have fulfilled the requirements, though you are limited by how much space you have on your back row.

As you can see from the image here, each player occupies a 5×2 grid, with some other zones that you don’t need to worry about right now. You place monsters on the front row of the grid, while the back row is for spells and traps. Monsters that are destroyed by battle, card effects or used as summoning fodder as well as Spells and Traps that have been activated go to the Graveyard, located above the deck zone on the right. There are exceptions but I won’t go into them here. On the left of the game field is the Extra Deck, which is where you can summon various types of Monsters. The most straightforward type are the Fusion Monsters, which are summoned by fusing two or more monsters using specific spell cards. Monsters from the Extra Deck are very powerful and consistent because you can summon them straight from the Extra Deck as long as you meet the summoning requirements—you don’t have to worry about whether you’ll draw into them or not from your deck, which is really called the Main Deck.

Understanding card effects 

Yu-Gi-Oh!’s card text is notoriously long-winded and complicated since the game has evolved over the years. Though they are written with a formal system called “Problem-Solving Card Text,” designed specifically to avoid confusion. The specific punctuation and terms that are used always mean the same thing, so you should know exactly what a card does if you understand the system. For example, if a card doesn’t have “target” in its text, then its effect is not a targeting effect. Though you shouldn’t worry about looking up this formal system because a lot of the card texts should already be reasonably clear to you, now that I’ve provided you with some basic terms (ones that are capitalized). Note that some of them are abbreviated: Life Points becomes LP and Graveyard becomes GY.

The best thing about Yu-Gi-Oh! card effects, though a not so good thing for beginners, is that a lot of them bend the basic rules that I’ve just described. Some cards allow you to Normal Summon more than once per turn, for example. When you encounter these cards, always remember that card effects trump the game rules.  


For accessibility and brevity’s sake, there is a lot of detail that’s left out of this introduction. You’ll have to learn the more intricate details as you play, which is the best way to learn, so I recommend that you have a friend teach you along the way. If not, a good way to start out is download the mobile version called “Duel Links.” It has different rules but the basics are still there and teaches new players very well. Good luck, and SOMEONE PLEASE PLAY WITH ME!

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