This page contains detailed information about the rules of the Yu-Gi-Oh! card game.
Each player starts the game with 8000 life points and a hand of 5 cards. The aim of the game is nominally to reduce your opponent's life points to 0, though there are other ways to win. Officially, the game is played in a match consisting of best-two-out-of-three duels; casual players will often play just one duel at a time.
Each player's turn comprises of six phases:
Draw Phase: The turn player draws a card.
Standby Phase: No actions are taken by default, but any card effects that mention the Standby Phase would take place now. Trap cards and Quick-Play Spell cards can also be activated during this phase.
Main Phase 1: Turn player may Normal Summon/Set one monster, and play as many Spell and Trap cards as they wish. Most monster effects can also be activated. Any monsters on the turn player controls not summoned during the current turn may be switched from Attack to Defense position and vice versa.
Battle Phase: A player may attack any monsters they have in Attack position. This works as follows:
Turn player nominates an attacking monster from his/her own field, and a target monster on the opponent's field (attack declaration). If the attack target is face-down, it is flipped face-up before damage calculation.
If the target monster is in attack position, the monster with the lowest ATK is destroyed. The controller of that monster loses life points equal to the difference in ATK. If both ATK scores are equal, both monsters are destroyed and neither player loses any life points. A recent rule also states that if the ATK of both monsters is 0, neither monster is destroyed.
If the target monster is in defense position, and its DEF is lower than the attacker's ATK, the defender is destroyed and nobody loses any life points. Some monsters have effects that let them "inflict piercing Battle Damage" that causes damage to be dealt equal to the difference between the attacker's ATK and the defender's DEF.
If the target monster is in defense position, and its DEF is equal to or greater than than the attacker's ATK, the attacker loses life points equal to the difference and no monsters are destroyed.
If the opponent has no monsters on the field, the attacking monster may attack the opponent's life points directly. If such an attack is successful, the opponent loses life points equal to the ATK of the attacking monster. (Some cards may have effects that allow a monster to attack directly regardless of monsters on the opponent's field.)
Each monster the turn player controls can attempt one attack, unless otherwise specified either by a card effect.
It is important to note that because it is not the Main Phase, only cards and effects that would usually be able to be used during the opponent's turn are able to be used in your Battle Phasenote With the exception that since it's your turn, you're allowed to activate Quick-Play Spells from your hand instead of having to set them first. In addition, during the Damage Step (the "step" directly before, during, and after damage calculation) only Spells/Traps that specifically modify ATK/DEF and Counter Traps can be activated; exceptions to this rule include card effects that have specific activation triggers that occur in the Damage Step (unless explicitly stated not to), or monster effects that negate other card effects.
Main Phase 2: Turn player can play any additional spell and trap cards they wish. If they have not already normal summoned a monster, they may do so now. They may also switch the battle positions of any monsters that were not summoned and have not battled this turn. (If the Battle Phase is not entered, Main Phase 2 cannot be entered.)
End Phase: Similar to the Standby Phase, players take no action by default, but cards that mention the End Phase would have the relevant effects applied. Quick-Play Spells/Traps can be activated. At the very end of the turn, if the turn player has over 6 cards in their hand, they must discard until they have 6 remaining. It is now the opponent's turn.
There are three basic types of cards in the game - Monster, Spell (originally called magic), and Trap. A player may have no more than five monsters and a combined total of five Spell and Trap cards (other than Field Spells) in play at any one time.
Monster cards are the primary type, and the game revolves around battles between various monsters. Each monster has three stats: ATK (attack), DEF (defense), and (in all cases but one) Level. A higher level very roughly corresponds to better ATK/DEF or effect. Monsters of level 4 and lower can (unless otherwise specified) be Normal Summoned for free. Those of level 5 and 6 require the player to tribute (that is, send to the graveyard from play) a monster they already control, and those of level 7 and higher require a tribute of two monsters.
Each monster is assigned one of seven attributes. These have no direct effect on the game, but many card effects specifically affect one particular attribute:
There is also a third grouping, unofficially referred to as archetypes. These are determined by having a common word or phrase in the card name, such as "Ninja" or "Hero". An increasing number of cards specifically affect monsters of specific archetypes, leading players to complain about inflexibility in new booster packs.
Monsters may be played in Attack Position (vertical) or Defense Position (sideways). In general, only monsters in Attack Position can attack. note One exception to this rule is the Total Defense Shogun, whose monster effect allows it to attack while in defense position. In this case, any damage dealt is equal to TDS's ATK power. The other is Elemental Hero Rampart Blaster, though its ATK power is halved and it can only attack when you're opponent has no monsters. A monster summoned by a card effect is played face-up unless specified. Otherwise, a monster is Normal Summoned face-up in Attack, or Set in face-down Defense. A face-up monster can only be turned face-down again by a card effect. A player may also voluntarily flip a monster face-up during their Main Phase by changing it to attack position (called a Flip Summon).
Monsters come in several varieties, denoted by the colour of the border.
Monster Card Types
Normal monsters (yellow border) have no special abilities, and therefore have no effect on gameplay beyond combat (at least, not on their own) - instead, their text boxes contain italicized "flavor text", which can be a description of the monster or offer some sort of backstory.
Effect monsters (orange border) have special effects that change the rules of the game. There are a few named classes of effect, though most effect monsters do not fall into these classes (that said, not all monsters in these classes exactly follow their classifications either, so the distinction is largely pointless as it's all explained on the card anyway):
Flip Effect monsters activate when flipped face-up. They are identified by the word "FLIP" at the beginning of its text; note that a monster whose effect instead states "When this card is flipped face-up:" is not treated as a Flip Effect monster.
Toon monsters generally can only be summoned when the spell card "Toon World" is on the field, and have a significant life point cost attached to attacking. Later toons dropped the latter, and eventually the former requirements. They can attack the opponent's life points directly if the opponent has no Toon monster on the field, but must attack any Toon monsters the opponent does control. If "Toon World" is destroyed while they are on the field, they are also destroyed.
Spirit monsters return to the player's hand at the end of the turn they are summoned or flipped face-up, and cannot be Special Summoned (bar one). Many of them have incredibly powerful effects because of the difficulty in summoning them and keeping them on the field.
Union monsters on the field can equip themselves to another (usually specific) monster you control, and apply effects to the equipped monster. They can also unequip themselves to be placed back as a monster. Only one Union monster can be equipped to a given monster at any one time, and in most cases if the equipped monster would be destroyed the Union monster can be destroyed instead.
Gemini monsters are treated as Normal monsters while in the field or in the graveyard. Their effects must be "unlocked" by the execution of a second Normal Summon, at which point they gain their effects and are treated as Effect monsters until they leave the field or are flipped face-down. (There are cards that unlock the effect without the second summoning, most notably Blazewing Butterfly's own self-tribute effect, and the equip card "Supervise".)
Token monsters are a special variant, and are not actual cards. Their stats and effects are not written, and are determined by whatever card was used to summon them. When they leave the field for any reason, instead of going to their targeted destination, they're simply removed from the game. Tokens can be Tributed/Fused/used as Synchro Material if allowed. They cannot be used for Xyz Summon, as they cannot exist anywhere than on the field (Xyz Material cards are not treated as monsters). While token cards exist (grey border), other objects like coins can be usednote Heads would be treated as Attack Position and Tails would be Defense. Tokens are treated as Normal Monsters for any card effects that refer to Normal/Effect/etc. monsters.
Fusion monsters (purple border) are stored in a special side area, called the Extra Deck, outside the main deck. They are typically summoned by using a Spell cardnote The standard Fusion Summon card is called "Polymerization", but there are numerous, often specific alternatives or other effect to send specific Fusion-Material monsters from the hand or field to the graveyard (or something else, depending on the Fusion card); such a summon is called a Fusion Summon, but there are other cards that allow for other methods of Special Summoning Fusion Monsters (these are not considered to be Fusion Summons). In any case, the resolution of the Fusion/Special Summoning effect allows the fusion monster to be summoned from the Extra Deck. Fusion monsters may also be effect monsters.
Certain Fusion monsters forego the fusion spell, and can be summoned whenever the appropriate monsters are on the field by shuffling the Fusion Material monsters into the deck or banishing them, depending on the fusion monster in question; this is called Contact Fusion. The main examples of this are the protagonist's Neos fusions from Yu-Gi-Oh! GX. Contact Fusion is not considered to be a form of Fusion Summon, meaning cards that trigger when a monster is fusion summoned cannot be activated. Most contact fusion monsters return themselves to the Extra Deck during the end phase. They are seen as the predecessors to Synchro Monsters.
Ritual monsters (blue border) can only be summoned from the hand by the use of specific spell cards, combined with sacrificing monsters from your field and/or hand whose combined level is at least equal (or in certain cases exactly equal) to the level of the ritual monster. Ritual monsters may also be effect monsters.
Synchro monsters (white border) are, like Fusion Monsters, stored in the Extra Deck. They are summoned by sending from the field to the Graveyard an appropriate tuner monster, as well as other monsters (called "Synchro-Material Monsters") whose cumulative level is exactly equal to the level of the Synchro Monster. Most Synchro Monsters do not require the use of a specific Tuner or non-Tuner Synchro-Material monsters, though exceptions to this rule exist. Synchro monsters may also be effect monsters.
Tuner is a secondary variety, which may be applied to normal, effect, or Synchro monsters. A tuner monster is required to summon a Synchro monster. Some Synchro monsters can be summoned with any tuner, some require a particular attribute or type, and some require one specific tuner.
Xyz monsters (black border with space effects), like Fusion and Synchro monsters, are also placed in the Extra Deck. They are summoned by stacking a printed number of monsters (called "Xyz-Material Monsters") whose levels are all the same as the Xyz monsterís rank and placing the Xyz monster on top of the pile. Most Xyz Monsters do not require specific Xyz-Material monsters, though exceptions to this rule exist. Xyz Monsters do not have levels, so level-based rules and card effects don't apply to themnote Such as Gravity Bind, or any Synchro Summon.
Spell cards note originally called Magic cards, but UDE were forced to change the name to avoid them being confused with Magic: the Gathering cards; they are still called 'Magic' cards in most non-English editions of the game have a blue-green border. They have various effects that change the rules of the game. They may be played face-up, in which case the effect is activated immediately, or face-down, in which case the effect is activated when the controller flips it face-up. A face-down card can be activated on the same turn it is put into play, with the exception of Quick-Play spells. Spell cards come in several varieties:
Normal spell cards have a wide variety of effects. When the effect resolves, the card is sent to the graveyard. They are typically rather powerful, to compensate for their one-shot nature. No symbol in most media, including the real-world card game (where there is a symbol, it is a capital "N").
Continuous spell cards stay on the field unless removed by the effect of a card. Their effects last as long as the card is in play, though some are only activated at the controller's decision despite constantly being face-up on the field. If the card is destroyed, any effects stop applying instantly, including trigger-like ones. Symbol: Infinity.
Equip spell cards represent weapons and items that the monsters can wield; each is attached to one monster card. Most equip cards provide a stat bonus, but some have other effects. They remain in play until removed by the effect of another card, or until the monster they are equipped to leaves the field. Symbol: Plus
If a monster is equipped to another monster, whether by its own effect or the effect of the monster it's equipped to, the equipped monster is considered to be an Equip Spell, and is no longer treated as a monster. It cannot be affected by cards that target monsters, but can be affected by cards that target spells.
Quick-Play spell cards can be activated from the hand at any time during the player's turn. If played face-down, they are the only spell cards that can be activated during the opponent's turn, but are then not allowed to be used on the same turn as they are set (much like Trap cards). They are also the only spell cards that can be activated in response to the activation of other card effects. Their effects are activated instantaneously, and the card is then sent to the Graveyard. Symbol: lightning bolt.
Field spell cards affect the entire field, granting bonuses or penalties to all monsters of a specified type, attribute, or archetype. Like Continuous cards, Field cards remain in play until destroyed or replaced. Only one field spell can be active at a time; if one is activated when there is already a field spell on the field, the previous Field Spell card is destroyed. Field spells are played in their own zone, separate from the main spell/trap zone. Symbol: compass.
Ritual spell cards are used to summon Ritual Monsters. To use a Ritual Spell, one must also hold the corresponding Ritual Monster in one's hand. Symbol: flame.
Trap cards are similar to spell cards in that they have effects which change the rules of the game. Unlike spell cards, they can only be set face-down, to be activated on a subsequent turn. A face-down trap may be activated at any time after the turn in which it is played. They have a pink border.
Normal traps cards are similar to normal spell cards. When activated, their effect is immediately applied, and then the card is sent to the Graveyard. note Some normal traps, when activated, are considered to be equipped to a selected monster. However, these are not considered equip spells, nor is there any such class as "Equip Trap". No symbol.
Continuous trap cards are similar to continuous spell cards. When activated, they remain on the field and provide a continuous effect (or an effect that can be repeatedly activated) until destroyed by another card effect. Like Continuous Spells, any trigger-like effects of the card will disappear if the card is destroyed before the effect resolves, but this can be dodged by utilising the Chain effectively. Symbol: infinity.
Counter trap cards exploit a mechanic known as 'spell speed'. Basically, a counter trap can be activated in response to any other card, but the only card that can be activated in response to a counter trap is another counter trap. Generally, Counter Traps are designed to be activated in response to a certain action, and then negate that action. Symbol: curved arrow.
Without going into excessive detail, the mechanism known as the Chain is the system that determines the order of card effects.
If a card or effect is activated, it is automatically considered Chain Link 1.
If a card or effect is activated in response, it is added to the Chain as Chain Link 2, and so on.
Whether a card/effect can be chained to another is dependent on the card/effect's Spell Speed, divided into Spell Speed 1, 2 and 3. For Spell Speeds greater than 1, only effects of an equal or higher Spell Speed can be chained; Spell Speed 1 effects cannot be manually chained to one another (for further explanation see SEGOC).
Spell Speed 1 effects are all monster effects apart from Quick effects, and all Spell cards and effects apart from Quick-Play spells.
Spell Speed 2 effects are Quick monster effects (in newer card texts, often characterised by the phrase "during either player's/your opponent's turn"), Quick-Play Spells, and Normal or Continuous Trap Cards. These are the effects that can be manually activated outside of the Main Phase.
Spell Speed 3 effects are Counter Traps only—if someone activates a Counter Trap, the only thing that will stop it is another Counter Trap.
Chains resolve backwards: the last thing to be activated is the first to resolve. Costs are paid at activation, not resolution; if a card is negated, its cost has already been paid and it is not refunded. The resolution of a Chain cannot be interrupted by activating more card effects, Triggers that would activate must wait until the end of the Chain in order to start a new one (and in some cases, miss the timing).
The main method of winning a duel is to reduce the opponent's Life Points to 0—if a player's LP hits 0, they lose instantly. If both players' LP reach 0 simultaneously (off the same card effect), the duel is a draw.
There are, however, many alternate win conditions:
If a player cannot draw a card from his/her own deck, due to running out of cards, when they must (such as at the beginning of their turn, or a card effect would force them to draw), they lose, regardless of life points. (Note that if a player has no cards in their deck but never has to draw, they can still win.) Some players build decks specifically to cause this; borrowing a term from Magic, such decks are called 'mill decks'. One variant is The Empty Jar Deck, named after Morphing Jar.
If at any time a player holds allfivepartsofExodia, they win automatically. If, by some divine magic, both players simultaneously have all five parts in their hand, the duel is a draw.
The card "Last Turn" forces a battle between two monsters, the winner of which wins the duel. note This card is currently on the Forbidden List, and as such is not permitted in official play.
If "Destiny Board" (which bears the letter F) and the Spirit Message cards I, N, A, and L are on the field in that order, the controller wins automatically. In the Japanese version, the cards spell out DEATH rather than FINAL.
"Final Countdown" causes the player to win 20 turns after activation. This includes the turn the card is activated, and each alternation of players counts as 1. In other words, the opponent has 10 of his own moves to win, or he automatically loses.