Return to Index

Playing the Yu-Gi-Oh TCG

The Yu-Gi-Oh TCG has 3 main types of cards: "Monster, Spell and Trap. Each Type has been properly broken down for anyone wanting to learn how to play.

Below is a sample view of how the current dueling field is designed.


  Extra Monster Zones (2 zones available at a time)  
FIELD SPELL ZONE Main Monster Zones (5 zones available per field) GRAVEYARD
Spell & Trap Card Zones (5 zones available per field)
(also for activated Pendulum Monsters, 2 per field)


Monster Cards
Monster Cards are one of the three main types of cards in the Yu-Gi-Oh TCG and OCG. Each monster has a different border color, which indicates what type of Monster Card they are and at minimum one type but they can sometimes have at least one sub-type as you'll learn below. They also will have one of these attributes: DARK, LIGHT, WIND, EARTH, FIRE, WATER and DIVINE, though special Monster Cards can have unique ones.
Normal Monsters
These cards have a yellow border not unlike the color you see here and are also identified by "/Normal", (example: "Warrior / Normal"), which is above text that tells the monster's story. You may also find some of these Monster Cards with an additional line of text confirming they are part of what is called an Archetype (a series of cards addressed by name with a phrase like "a 'Dark Magician' monster".
Effect Monsters
There's a lot of Effect Monsters out there, and below are the remaining types thus far, but this section only covers the regular ones. These types of Monster Cards have an orange-y brown color and are identified with "/Effect" (such as "Fiend / Effect") above any number of effects or other requirements. You can also find these with other types like "Flip" for Flip monsters (like Man-Eater Bug", which also start with the phrase "FLIP:" after some effects, usually at the beginning of their effects. There's also Toon monsters, which have effects exclusively for them and are found with the subtype "/Toon" after their main Monster Card Type usually. You may also hear the term "Hand Trap", which implies a Monster Card activating its effect while in the hand. This is generally the only one of its kind as most other cards cannot do this without another effect stating so. You simply send it from your hand to the Graveyard and apply its effect in the Graveyard. Of course, there are plenty of others like this, but it's such a long list. Just know they're done more like Toon monsters
Ritual Monsters
A blue border surrounds the properties of these monsters and there's "/Ritual" next to their main Monster Card Type such as "Spellcaster / Ritual". Most of therse require some type of Ritual Spell (see Spell Cards below) to bring them out, but unlike the old days, you are generally not required to use the one suggested in their text. While not explcitely stated on most of them, you generally have to Ritual Summon them first before you can revive them later, though there are some ways to bypass this. In the early days, these had nothing aside from their usual requirements, but later these have followed regular Effect Monsters above to include effects, and even some of the other Types below.
Fusion Monsters
You can always tell these cards by their purple borders, "/Fusion" in their texts like the example here: "Fairy / Fusion / Effect" and usually two or more Fusion Materials, which often directly mention certain monsters, but can be more general like "2 Toon Monsters". Much like Ritual Monters, these generally have to be brought out using some sort of Fusion Summoning card such as "Polymerization", but you can bypass this rule with some effects. These cards have also branched out to include effects, but have generally stayed away from most of the other types.
Synchro Monsters
Their card boarder is generally either white or even a light gray along with "/Synchro" in their texts such as "Aqua / Synchro". You bring them out in most cases using what is called a "Tuner Monster" (which has "/Tuner" in its text) and 1 or more non-Tuner monsters (usually monsters without "/Tuner" in its text). Like Rituals, Fusions and even some of the Monster Types below, these often have to be played properly before they can be reived from the Graveyard later, but of course there are ways around this.
Xyz Monsters
Identified by their outer space-esque borders, blue and yellow stars called "Ranks" below their names and "/Xyz" in their texts like "Dragon / Xyz / Effect". These cards have come about in the last 12 years. Generally, these are somewhat like Fusion and Synchro Monsters in that they list the monsters required to Xyz Summon them, but they're often more open than Fusion Monsters, requiring generally only Levels in most cases. You bring these monsters out by using monsters with the same Level as the Xyz Monster's Rank (2 Level 6 monsters brings out a Rank 6 Xyz Monster). Most of their effects involve detaching an Xyz Material(s), which is one or more of the monsters that was attached (or placed under the Xyz Monster) when the Xyz Monster was Xyz Summoned, and very few actually lack effects, contrary to other Extra Deck monsters like Fusons and Synchros.
Pendulum Monsters
As the label implies, these cards are hybrids of both Monster Cards and Spell Cards. This means they can either be in the Main Monster Zone or the Spell & Trap Zone (see the field above) and are easily identified in other ways like "/Pendulum" in their 2nd text box like "Beast / Pendulum" and having a Pendulum Scale on both sides of the Pendulum Effect, which is a secondary effect above the typical monster effects and Monster Types.

Depending on where you place them on your field, you apply the appropriate effect (top effect for the Spell & Trap Zone and bottom effect for the Main Monster Zone). So far, the Pendulum Scale numbers have been the same, but these cards have also branched out from just being hybrids with Effect Monsters to going as far as being hybrids with Ritual, Fusion, Synchro and Xyz Monsters. When these cards are sent to the Graveyard, you place them face-up in your Extra Deck, the place for Fusion, Synchro, Xyz and Link Monsters, previously called the Fusion Deck.

Link Monsters 
The latest and perhaps most complicated addition to the Yu-Gi-Oh TCG. They're identified with a number of properties:
A lack of printed DEF; instead, they have a Link Rating, which is generally equal to the minimum number of required monsters to Link Summon that Link Monster.
2. A hexagonal pattern colored somewhat like a Ritual Monster, but with different shades and hues. 3. Orange and white triangles around the monster's artwork called "Link Arrows", which are often involved in the Link Monster's effects.
The phrase "/Link" next to their main Monster Type such as "Cyberse / Link / Effect". Like most other Monster Cards above, these start in the Extra Deck and move to the Extra Monster Zone later, unless a Link Monster points to an open Main Monster Zone.
The only Monster Cards in the game with a more dark gray border and the phrase "Token" in their texts and in their names. Some of these have actual Monster Card info, based on the card effects that Summon them, but they're generally open to being used for any card effect that brings out Tokens. You can also use anything else that would be capable of having Attack Position and Defense Position such as a coin. Unlike all other cards to date, these cannot be in the Main Deck and specifically say so where most cards' passcodes would be (the 16 digit number that is sometimes used to add the card in video games). Up until recently, these were generally based on a specific card, but have since added characters from the TV shows too.
Egyptian God Cards
Three special cards released in the TCG, but not intended as being part of it. They are:
Slifer the Sky Dragon"
, "Obelisk the Tormentor" and "The Winged Dragon of Ra". Basically, they're collector's items only with nothing on them to state how they're intended to work and just follow the TV show's versions to a degree with a red border for Slifer, a dark blue border for Obelisk and a yellow-green border for Ra. They were the first ever Divine-Beast monsters with DIVINE Attributes until their Effect Monster versions came out years later. As a result of their collector's item status, they include "This card cannot be used in a Duel" where the 16 digit passcode would be and are subsequently left out of the Forbidden & Limited List, which determines how many cards (up to 3) can be used in your Main Deck for an official Yu-Gi-Oh tournament. Some video games do include them, and in most cases they are special releases, but overall, they serve no actual purpose in official Duels.
Spell Cards (aka "Magic Cards")
These cards are the 2nd type of card in the Yu-Gi-Oh TCG and OCG and all have a teal or dark green card border and generally can be played right away.
Normal Spell Cards
The only Spell Cards not to have any icon next to the phrase "SPELL CARD", and perhaps the most common of them all. Aside from the lack of an icon, there's little variation between this and the next few types of Spell Cards.
Equip Spell Cards
As their name suggests, these cards are able to equip to monsters. Sometimes they're specific, sometimes not, but the plus sign next to "SPELL CARD" is your biggest clue, along with "Equip only to a ____ monster" in its text, usually at the beginning. In the early days, its only effect was simply affecting ATK or DEF of a monster, but now generally these have two or more effects, sometimes with the ability to return themselves to your hand or Main Deck.
Quick-Play Spell Cards
You'll find these with a lightning bolt or zig-zag icon next to "SPELL CARD" and as their name implies, they can be used quickly, usually during your opponent's turn, or they can be Set like Trap Cards (see Trap Cards below). They can prove useful when a player's card is blocking the use of Trap Cards and/or Effect Monster effects.
Continuous Spell Cards
Not much should be needed to understand where their name comes from; just the icon, which is the infinity symbol or a sideways number 8. These effects stay on the field as long as the card does, often not requiring the owner to do anything to keep it there. However, some have what is called a Cost to stay on the field; you give up something to keep them on the field like a monster or Life Points. Sometimes these cards' effects work right away and other times it's up to the owner to decide when to use them. Some Effect Monsters (see above) can work as these types of cards, in which case you'd follow the rules of Continuous Spells instead of Effect Monsters while that case is being applied.
Ritual Spell Cards
Perhaps the most specific of all Spell Cards, these cards have a flame icon next to "SPELL CARD" and are usually specific to Ritual Summoning a specific Ritual Monster (see above) with a phrase like "This card is used to Ritual Summon '______'. You must also Tribute monsters from your hand or field whose total Levels are ___ or more." You generally need this with the Ritual Monster in your hand and of course the necessary monsters these types of Spell Cards list, though this is often about as specific as the example above.
Field Spell Cards
A pretty rare part of any Duel, these cards feature a cross-like icon next to "SPELL CARD" and mostly apply to both players. In the early days, these cards had one effect that gave certain monsters on the field a small ATK and DEF boost and only 1 Field Spell could be on the field at a time. Later, these were applied with a higher ATK boost and a near-equal DEF loss and both players could have an active Field Spell.. When activated, these cards go in the Field Card Zone (see the field above).
Trap Cards
These cards are the last main type of card in the Yu-Gi-Oh TCG and OCG and all have a dark pink card border and generally have to be Set before they can be activated.
Normal Trap Cards
Most of these are fairly simple with one or two effects at a time. They also lack any sort of icon next to "TRAP CARD".
Continuous Trap Cards
These cards are quite like Continuous Spell Cards (see above), but with "TRAP CARD" next to the infinity symbol or sideways number 8. These tend to have some sort of Cost applied to keep them on the field as they're also often with powerful effects.
Counter Trap Cards
Perhaps the most lethal of the trio are Counter Trap Cards, which feature a curved arrow icon next to "TRAP CARD". They're so potent that the only card that can negate them is another Counter Trap Card. These generally tend to have powerful effects and subsequently come with an activation requirement that is often more than just using it against another card effect.
Duels are conducted by having one player decide who goes first using a method both players agree to use. When that is done, both players set their Life Points to 8000, shuffle each others' Decks, draw 5 cards and follow these phases of a turn.
Draw Phase
At the start of their turn, the Turn Player (the player taking their turn) draws 1 card from the top of their Deck and adds it to their hand. This is also the phase of their turn where they can apply other effects. The player taking the very first turn of the Duel does NOT enter this phase of their turn.
Standby Phase 
Generally, this is exclusive to effects that mention it like "Once per turn, during your Standby Phase".
Main Phase 1
Perhaps the most often used phase of a turn in that you get to activate or Set your cards (or Summon them if they're Monster Cards) and/or apply any relevant card effects.
Battle Phase
One might consider this to be the action of a Duel. If the Turn Player has any monsters on their field that can attack (usually in Attack Position), they can do so, either attacking an opponent's monster, or in some cases a direct attack on the opponent's Life Points. When attacking a monster, you compare your monster's appropriate value (ATK or DEF) with the appropriate value opponent's monster (ATK or DEF). Sometimes this involves applying effects too as players from either field can respond with pretty much any effect from the three basic card types (see above). If you're taking the very first turn of the Duel you do NOT enter this phase that turn.
Main Phase 2
It's a lot like Main Phase 1, but only if you didn't perform any actions during Main Phase 1. Some effects can be applied here, but this phase is also skipped if no Battle Phase is performed.
End Phase
Simply put, it's the last phase of the Turn Player's turn, with only certain actions being available such as paying a Cost to keep a card on the field or activating certain cards or cards effects.
During a Duel, one or both players may respond with their own cards. This is called a Chain and can involve one or even all 3 main card types. The first card activated becomes Chain Link 1 and all others activated in response become Chain Link 2, Chain Link 3 and so on until no more cards are activated. As a result, the Chain resolves backwards with the very last card in the Chain proceeding first. For example:
1. Player 1 activates Raigeki to destroy the opponent's monsters. (Chain Link 1)
2. Player 2 responds with Magic Jammer to negate Player 1's Raigeki. (Chain Link 2)
3. Player 1 responds with Seven Tools of the Bandit to negate the Magic Jammer. (Chain Link 3)
When nothing else happens, Player 1's Seven Tools negates Magic Jammer and then Raigeki is able to resolve normally, destroying their opponent's monsters.
All this info may seem daunting at first, but if you take it step-by-step, you should be able to master it in no time.
1. Start with Starter Decks and work your way up to the more difficult aspects as this is also the cheapest way to go.
2. Stay out of tournaments until you're absolutely sure you're ready (read up on the rules of tournaments you're intending to visit).
3. Once you've mastered the ability to Duel and are ready for tournaments, check up on what's cirrently on the Forbidden & Limited List. While players may figure out you're new to the game and cut you a break, this won't likely last more than one or two trips to an event.
4. Keep your Deck to around 40 cards to increase your chances of drawing what you need when you need it.
5. Don't fill your Deck with too many Level 5 or higher monsters (max of around 2 total) and/or ones with Summoning requirements or restrictions. This'll clog your hand at times and can ruin your strategy.
6. Don't feel too discouraged if you don't have much success the first or second time around.
7. When you have enough cards, get a binder to store them in for trading with other players.
8. Be courteous with others, whether Dueling them or not.
9. Know the value of your cards and keep an eye on your cards at all times to minimize theft.
10. Shuffle your Deck well before Dueling. (I recommend the "Pile Shuffle".)
11. Make sure your Deck and Extra Deck have the same card sleeves (preferably different sleeves for each Deck, like black sleeves for your Main Deck and white sleeves for your Extra Deck) to avoid suspicions of cheating.