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Here’s How To Play Yu-Gi-Oh

Yu-Gi-Oh is on it's deepest levels one of the most complicated trading card games ever created. That said, despite how complicated it can be, the basics and getting started playing is easier than one would expect.

Yu-Gi-Oh is one of the most complicated trading card games ever created. That said, despite how confusing it can be, getting started playing is easier than one would expect.

First released in 1999, the TCG is a real-life adaptation of the Yu-Gi-Oh anime and manga’s Duel Monsters game. Yu-Gi-Oh’s popularity followed hot off the heels of Pokémon, with plenty of ’90s and 2000s millennials dueling on playgrounds and cafeteria tables during the height of the card game’s fad. But over two decades later, Yu-Gi-Oh is still just as fun today as it was during its first few years.

Interested in learning how to play this iconic TCG? Here’s what you need to know.

Everything you need to know to play Yu-Gi-Oh

yugioh trading card game

First in Yu-Gi-Oh, make a deck of 40-60 cards with an “Extra Deck” of up to 15 cards. The extra deck is where Fusion, Syncro, XYZ, and Link monsters go, and the main deck is for everything else. When the game begins, shuffle your deck and draw five cards.

Yu-Gi-Oh is divided into phases which are fairly easy to understand. Each turn starts with a Draw Phase, where the player draws a card (unless you’re going first in the match, in which case, don’t draw anything). Standby Phase is the start of your turn before you draw, which activates any cards’ affiliated Standby effects. Next is the Main Phase, where the core part of the game is done. The dueler can play their cards during this segment: Monsters, traps, summons, and activated effects are all fair game. They can deploy monsters both defensively and offensively. If you set cards to attack, this segues into the Battle Phase.

In Battle Phase, any card in attack position can attack just once. Battles are incredibly straightforward: Compare your card’s Atk to your opponent’s defending card. The bigger number wins in a fight, and the difference is dealt in Life Points. Things can get tricky here; if you attack a monster weaker than your card’s Atk, you destroy that monster and deal LP damage to your opponent. If you you attack a monster with the same Atk, both are destroyed. And if you attack a monster that’s stronger than your own, you lose LP. The inverse is true for defending as well.

If your opponent has no defending monsters, you can attack their LP directly. All players start with 8,000 LP. To win the game, deplete your opponent’s health to zero.

Yu-Gi-Oh Card

Once the Battle is done, it’s time for Main Phase 2. This lets the player use more cards if things get messy in battle. After that, your turn enters the End Phase. Any End Phase effects are activated during this phase. You’ll also need to discard any additional cards you have if there are more than six in your hand. Then, it’s time for your opponent’s turn, where the process starts all over for them.

During the Main Phase, you can play as many cards as you want from your hand as you can play. Traps need to wait a turn after being set, but so long as the card’s activation condition is met, you can play them. You are allowed one normal summon per turn for playing a monster, but many cards allow themselves to be special summoned. Cards have levels, but in modern Yu-Gi-Oh, that hardly matters. Today’s players rarely tribute summon and instead will use cards to bring out cards, or use cards for their effects in hand. 

Summoning from the extra deck has become a core part of Yu-Gi-Oh. Players can Fusion summon by playing a Fusion spell card and meeting the conditions on the Fusion monster. To Syncro summon, grab a “tuner” monster (it will say on the card) and other monsters equal to the level of the monster you want in the extra deck. For XYZ cards, just put two cards or more of the same level on top of each other and then put an XYZ monster with an equal rank on top of it. And to Link, just put any cards together and meet the conditions on the Link monster. Generally, it’s just mashing two to four monsters together.

There are many other odds and ends to Yu-Gi-Oh, but this covers the basics. The biggest key to learning the TCG is taking your time. Most of Yu-Gi-Oh comes down to reading cards and taking advantage of their abilities. Basically, any rule could have had a “unless a card says otherwise” clause. So learning the cards and the normal flow of the game is way more important than learning every niche that Yu-Gi-Oh’s over 10,000 cards provide.

How to start learning Yu-Gi-Oh


Now that you know the basic structure for playing Yu-Gi-Oh, you’ll want to start trying the game out yourself.

The best starting point is to buy a deck. Buy three structure decks and put together the best cards. From there, you’ll have a solid assortment to use in battle.

Once your deck is assembled, focus on learning that deck’s cards. Play against people you like who are familiar with the game, and take the time to learn how your deck and their deck works. Yu-Gi-Oh’s far more complicated rules, like Pendulum summoning, card ruling, miss timing, and so on, will come over time.

If you’re coming back to Yu-Gi-Oh after playing the game when you were a kid, most of your cards are irrelevant to the way the game is played today. Still, it’s worth flipping through your old deck and taking note of your favorite monsters. There just might be new cards based around your classic picks, and some old standbys still get plenty of play in modern decks, like the Dark Magician and Blue-Eyes White Dragon.  Figure out what feels fun first. A lot of new card designs are catering to Yu-Gi-Oh nostalgia these days, so there is a lot to enjoy if you’re just coming back.

That’s basically everything you need to know to play the game. You should be able to start dueling with friends, family, and enemies from here.

About the author

Sara Starling

Sara Starling is a writer and a lover of queer media. She has worked across many mediums and loves finding hidden treasures inside of them.