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. Fast effects, like Trap cards, Quick-Play Spell cards, and Quick monster effects can also be activated during this phase.
- Main Phase 1: Turn player may Normal Summon/Set one monster, Special Summon monsters via game mechanics, 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 between Attack and Defense position once per turn.
- Battle Phase: A player may attack with any monsters they have in Attack position. This phase is divided into Steps and works as follows:
- Start Step: The player declares that they are entering the Battle Phase. Fast effects can be activated now.
- Battle Step: Turn player nominates an attacking monster from his/her own field, and a target monster on the opponent's field (attack declaration). If there is no opposing monster, it can attack directly.
- Damage Step: The attack target is flipped face-up, damage calculation is performed between the attacking monster and the attack target, monsters are destroyed, flip effects activate, and effects that trigger off any of the above activate (in roughly that order. Be aware the damage step has very complicated deeper rulings). Damage calculation proceeds as follows:
- 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. 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.)
- End Step: The player declares that they are ending the Battle Phase. Fast effects can be activated.
- Each monster the turn player controls can attempt one attack per turn (with the Battle and Damage Steps being repeated as necessary for each), unless otherwise specified by a card effect.
- If a monster declares an attack and a the number of monsters the opponent controls changes before the Damage Step, a Replay occurs. At this time, the attacking player can choose to have their attacking monster continue its attack, designating a new attack target (which may or may not be the original target), or they can choose not to attack, in which case the attacking monster is still considered to have declared an attack and therefore cannot do so again during the same Battle Phase.
- 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 . In addition, during the Damage Step (the "step" directly before, during, and after damage calculation) only specific types of effects can be activated, including effects that specifically modify ATK/DEF, monster effects that negate an activation, Counter Traps, and most Trigger 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 or switched their battle position 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.
The player who starts the duel cannot conduct a Draw Phase or Battle Phase in his first 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 and Pendulum Monsters treated as 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 the field) 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:
Each monster is also assigned one of 23 types; again, the purpose of these is purely to determine which monsters are affected by which effects:
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". Archetypes are the heart of Yu-Gi-Oh, to Yu-Gi-Oh what colors are to Magic, and most decks are based off them.
Monsters may be played in Attack Position (vertical) or Defense Position (horizontal). In general, only monsters in Attack Position can attack. note A monster Special 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).
Three ways of summoning monsters exists, Normal, Special, and Flip. One can normally do only 1 Normal Summon/Set per turn, but there are no restrictions on the other two.
Monsters come in several varieties, denoted by the colour of the border.
- 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 monsters activate when flipped face-up. They are identified by the word "FLIP" at the beginning of their 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. 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 on the field or in the graveyard. Their effects must be "unlocked" by the execution of a second Normal Summon (basically, use up one of your available normal summons while the card is on the field), 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, but temporary monsters created by a card effect. 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. Since they can't be specifically 'sent' places, they can't be used for certain costs or summoning conditions that require them to be sent somewhere. Tokens can be Tributed/Fused/used as Synchro or Link Material if allowed. They cannot be used for Xyz Summons, as they cannot exist anywhere other than on the field (Xyz Material cards are not treated as monsters), and they can't be turned face-down. While official token cards exist (grey border), other objects like coins can be used,note or anything small that could indicate battle positions. Tokens are always treated as Normal Monsters, even if they seem to have effects.
- Fusion monsters (violet border) are stored in a special side area, called the Extra Deck, outside the main deck. The Extra Deck is limited to 15 monsters and can be accessed to Special Summon monsters from anytime. Fusions are typically summoned by using a Spell cardnote or other effects 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 Special 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, sending to the Graveyard, 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. They are seen as the predecessors to Synchro Monsters.
- Ritual monsters (blue border) can only be Summoned from the hand (with a number of exceptions) with Ritual Spells, combined with Tributing Monsters from your Field and/or hand whose combined Levels are at least equal (or in certain cases exactly equal) to the level of the Ritual Monster you're attempting to Ritual Summon. They're often regarded as the least practical Summon method, although the few Ritual Monsters that see extensive play tend to be well worth the trouble.
- 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 non-Tuner monsters (called "Synchro Material Monsters") whose cumulative levels are 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.
- Tuner is a secondary variety, which may be applied to any type of monster with a level. 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 monster's Rank and placing the Xyz monster on top of the pile. These Xyz Materials underneath can be 'detached' (sent to the Graveyard) for the Xyz Monster's effects, and are sent to the Graveyard when the Xyz leaves the field. 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 them. For example, Gravity Bind can't stop them from attacking, but they also can't be used for Synchro Summons.
- Pendulum monsters (half the color of their base monster type, half-green border) can be summoned normally from the hand OR be played as Spell Cards in the Pendulum Zones at the far-left and far-right of the player's Spell/Trap Zone. Once there is a Pendulum monster in each zone, that player can Pendulum Summon any number of other monsters freely from their hand or face-up in their Extra Deck, as long as their levels/ranks are between the Scales of the two monsters in the Pendulum Zones. For example, Scales of 1-8 means Pendulum Summoning level 2-7 monsters. You get one Pendulum Summon per turn. If a Pendulum Monster would be sent from the field to the Graveyard (either as a monster or a spell card), it instead goes face-up to the Extra Deck, where it can be resummoned later if the conditions allow. Pendulum Monsters have two separate effect boxes, one being a Pendulum Effect that only applies while it's in the Pendulum Zone, and the monster effect only applying as a monster. If the Pendulum Monster is not a Main Deck card, but an Extra Deck Card, e.g. an Xyz Pendulum Monster, it has to be Special Summoned from the Extra Deck first with the corresponding Special Summoning type, in this case Xyz Summon, before it can be Pendulum Summoned.
- Link monsters (blue border with hexagons) are placed in the Extra Deck. They are summoned by sending a number of monsters (called "Link Material Monsters") whose Link Ratings (Number in the OCG) equal that of the Link Monster's (with non-Link Monsters treated as Link 1), and satisfying the material conditions on the Link Monster, to the graveyard. Link Monsters have neither Levels nor Ranks, and have no DEF value- they can't be placed in Defense Position or flipped face-down. Around their art border, Link Monsters have Link Arrows (Link Markers in the OCG) that point to specific Monster Card Zones. These zones- including those on the opponent's side of the field, if the arrow points forward- become Link Points and can be used to summon monsters from the Extra Deck; many Link Monsters' effects also deal with whichever monsters are in the Link Points, with some even taking into account other Link Monsters whose arrows point back (being "co-linked"). A Monster is stated to be in a Linked State (or just simply Linked) when it is pointed to by a Link Monster's Link Arrow, or when a Link Monster's Link Arrow is pointing to another Monster.
- Per the fourth revision of the Master Rules, Monsters Summoned from the Extra Deck (including Pendulum) must be placed in either one of the two Extra Monster Zones, or to a Main Monster Zone pointed to by a Link Monster's Link Arrow. Extra Deck Monsters Summoned from anywhere other than the Extra Deck (or returning to the Field in some other way, e.g. banished until the End Phase) are always placed onto a Main Monster Zone (regardless of whether or not they are pointed to by Link Arrows) and never onto an Extra Monster Zone. Additionally, if one takes control of a Monster in an Extra Monster Zone, it goes to a Main Monster Zone on that player's field, and when control of that Monster returns to its original owner, it also goes to a Main Monster Zone on their field.
- An Extra Link involves a series of co-linked Link Monsters connecting from one Extra Monster Zone to the other. This is also the only way you can control both Extra Monster Zones at the same time, and can be achieved by using your own co-linked Link Monsters, or (in rare cases) your opponent's co-linked Link Monsters, to form a U-shape or reverse U-shape, respectively. Link Monsters involved in an Extra Link are stated to be Extra Linked, and other Link Monsters which are co-linked with a Link Monster involved in an Extra Link also become Extra Linked.
Spell cards note 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 set 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 any type of spell that lingers on the field is removed, any effects it has stop applying instantly, and trigger-like ones activated at that time resolve without doing anything. 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 set 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, often granting bonuses or penalties to all monsters of a specified type, attribute, or archetype, though other effects are also possible. Like Continuous cards, Field cards remain in play until destroyed or replaced. Only one field spell can be active at a time for each player; if a player wishes to activate a second Field Spell, their existing card is automatically sent to the Graveyard. Field spells are played in their own zone, separate from the main spell/trap zones. 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 have a purple border. They 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.
- 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 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. There are some continuous traps (usually referred to colloquially as "Trap Monsters") that are summoned to the field as monsters after activation; they still count as traps as well as monsters. 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.
- 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"), or even the self-explanatory ("This is a Quick Effect"), 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.
- Spell Speed 4 is the unofficial term given to any card or effect that cannot be chained to, in other words it cannot be countered, not even by a Counter Trap. However, this does not mean that they can be activated in response to a Counter Trap; Spell Speed 4 cards retain their normal Speed, most of which are Speed 1 or Speed 2.
The main methods of winning a duel are:
- to reduce the opponent's Life Points to 0—if a player's LP hits 0, they lose instantly.
- 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 both players' LP reach 0 simultaneously (off the same card effect), the duel is a draw.
There are, however, many alternate win conditions:
- If at any time a player holds all five parts of Exodia, they win automatically. If, by some divine magic, both players simultaneously have all five parts in their hand, the duel is a draw.
- "Exodius the Ultimate Forbidden Lord" causes the player to win if they have all five Exodia cards in the graveyard (but only if sent there by the effect of Exodius).
- The card "Last Turn" forces a battle between two monsters, the winner of which wins the duel. If both monsters survive, or both monsters are destroyed, the duel is a draw.note
- 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.
- "Venominaga the Deity of Poisonous Snakes" gains a Hyper-Venom counter each time it inflicts damage to the opponent. When it has three such counters, its controller automatically wins.
- If a player manages to Summon "Holactie the Creator of Light", they automatically win.
- If a player successfully resolves the effect of "Number 88: Gimmick Puppet of Leo" and adds 3 Destiny Counters, the controller automatically wins.
- If a player controls a "Number C88: Gimmick Puppet Disaster Leo" during the End Phase with no Xyz-Material Monsters while the opponent has 2000 or less Life Points, they automatically win.
- If a player has three "Jackpot 7" banished by their own effect, they automatically win.
- If a player uses Relay Soul, they cannot lose Life Points while the monster summoned by it remains on the field. However, if said monster does leave the field, that player automatically loses.
- If a player manages to attach 10 Xyz Materials to Ghostrick Angel of Mischief, they automatically win.
- If a player activates Phantasm Spiral Assault, then successfully gets a Phantasm Spiral Dragon to destroy three opposing effect monsters while equipped with 3 or more "Phantasm Spiral" Equip Spells with different names, they win the duel.
- In Konami Sanctioned Tournaments, you can also lose if you are given a Game Loss from a Konami Judge for any number of possible reasons, which are explained in the "Tournament Guidelines FAQ".
- Note that you cannot win a duel by a non-standard victory condition in the middle of an effect resolving, you must fully resolve the card effect before checking the gamestate for victory conditions. (This was a rule that was changed in 2015; prior to this, it applied to standard victory conditions as well.)
A few times a year, company officials release what is known as the Forbidden/Limited List, a selection of cards that are not permitted in official play, or are only allowed in certain quantities. As of September 1, 2013, the OCG and TCG run separate lists and are updated at different times. The current listnote for the TCG can be found here.