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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 how the current dueling field is designed.


(Also for activated Pendulum Monsters)
(Also for activated Pendulum Monsters)
(Also for activated Pendulum Monsters)
(Also for activated Pendulum Monsters)
(Also for activated Pendulum Monsters)


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 generally have no effect on gameplay, meaning that when they're on the field, nothing happens, though some cards get updated text to include them where they previously were excluded. They have a story about the monster instead of an effect.
Effect Monsters Regular Effect Monsters have an orange-brown card border but there are many kinds of Effect Monsters and they are: Ritual Monsters, Fusion Monsters, Synchro Monsters, Xyz Monsters and Pendulum Monsters. You'll learn more about them below. There are also different types of regular effect monsters too. Take Flip-Effect Monsters for example (or more recently just Flip Monsters). These cards are always identified with "FLIP:" at the beginning of their text and recently "Flip" as a sub-type next to their type as in "Warrior / Flip / Effect". These effects are activated whenever they are changed from face-down in Defense Position to either face-up Defense Position or face-up Attack Position and if the conditions are right.

There are similar monsters to Flip Effect in that they activate when flipped face-up but only when you do so manually. They also generally have effects to put them into face-down Defense Position. Do not confuse these with Flip Effect monsters as they do not contain the phrase "FLIP:" in their text. This is why Flip Effect Monsters are now called Flip monsters and received the update in recent printings of the cards.
Ritual Monsters These cards have a blue card border and the word "Ritual" as their sub-type. Some of them have an effect (and are thus also called Effect Monsters but most do not have anything more than the requirements for their Ritual Summon, meaning to use either the Ritual Monster's listed Ritual Spell Card or another appropriate Ritual Spell card and following the instructions on both cards before Special Summoning the Ritual Monster from your hand. You must have both the Ritual Spell Card and Ritual Monster in your hand before you perform any type of Ritual Summon. Like all Monster Cards mentioned above, these cards go in your Main Deck.
Fusion Monsters These cards have a purple or violet card border and usually contain any Fusion Material Monsters needed for that card's Fusion Summon. A Fusion Summon is when you take the appropriate Fusion Summon Spell Card and all the necessary Fusion Material Monsters listed in the Fusion Monster's text, which are listed before any effects the Fusion Monster may have and are stored in your Extra Deck, which was previously called the Fusion Deck. However, some Fusion Monsters can't be brought out the usual way so you have to read carefully to make sure that your Fusion Monster has no special method required for its summoning.
Synchro Monsters These cards have a white card border and also go in your Extra Deck. They not only list "Synchro" as their sub-type, and sometimes first sub-type if they have more than one but their text usually starts off with what are called Synchro Materials. These are monsters whose Levels add up to the Synchro Monster's Level so a Level 6 Synchro Monster would need any combination of 6 as long as it includes at least 2 monsters. One of those Synchro Material Monsters must be what is called a Tuner monster. These are Monster Cards with "Tuner" next to their main type and sometimes after their sub-type like with certain Synchro Monsters. It's also worth noting that some Synchro Monsters are specific to the Synchro Materials they need for them to be Synchro Summoned so read their text carefully before Summoning them.
Xyz Monsters These Monster Cards are easily identified with their unique outer space-like card border and "Xyz" next to their main type. They also have their own version of Levels called a Rank. The Rank of an Xyz Monster is on the left and features blue-gray dots with light yellow stars. For their Summoning, you take 2 monsters with the same Level that also equal the Xyz Monster's Rank and then stack them on top of each other, then put the Xyz Monster from your Extra Deck on top of those 2 monsters. This is called an Xyz Summon and the monsters used to Xyz Summon it are called Xyz Materials. Note however that Xyz Monsters are not affected by any card effects that affect Level and that Xyz Materials are not considered to be on the field. They generally have effects that require you to detach, that is to remove one of the Monster Cards underneath the Xyz Monster, in order to use the effect. Thus, any Effect Monsters that are Xyz Materials and have effects that activate when they're sent from the field to the Graveyard will not activate. 
Pendulum Monsters They are hybrids of Monster Cards and Spell Cards and have a varying card border colors depending on what the upper half of the card's type is. As a result, they have two effects depending on where they are placed on the field and a Pendulum Scale for Pendulum Summons, which involve using the Pendulum Scales of two Pendulum Monsters in your Pendulum Zones and Pendulum Summoning monsters from your hand whose Levels are in between the scales. For example, if your Pendulum Scales are 1 and 8, you can Pendulum Summon monsters whose Levels are 2 through 7. When a Pendulum Monster is in your Pendulum Zone, it is a Spell Card not a Monster Card and as such is not affected by any card effects that affect Monster Cards. When using it as a Spell Card, you activate the effect in between the numbers of that Pendulum Monster's Pendulum Scale.
As a Monster Card, Pendulum Monsters work like any ordinary Monster Card and you can therefore Summon them as you would ordinary Monster Cards.  They also have their effects in the same plaice as other Monster Cards. When a Pendulum Monster is sent from the field to the Graveyard it is instead placed face-up in your Extra Deck and can then be Pendulum Summoned later. You can only Pendulum Summon once per turn.
 Link Monsters  The most recent Monster Card type. Unlike traditional Monster Cards, Link Monsters have no DEF printed on the card and thus cannot be in Defense Mode, including face-down. Additionally, they have orange triangles called Link Arrows that are found around the border for the card's artwork. These indicate the Monster Card Zones you (or in some cases both players or just your opponent) can play monsters from their hand, Deck, Extra Deck or Graveyard and will generally say "to a zone a Link Monster points to" in its card text. Otherwise, Extra Deck monsters, other than Pendulum Monsters sent to the Extra Deck from the field, are played in the Extra Monster Zone, which was introduced with the release of these cards. This zone is located above your Monster Card Zones (now known as Main Monster Zones) and is open to both players, though generally both players will only get 1 Extra Monster Zone.

You'll also find a Link Rating where the DEF would be if it had been printed. This tells you how many monsters you need to bring the Link Monster out so a Link-1 monster requires 1 monster and sometimes this is pretty specific. This is important because while a Link Monster may say "2+ monsters", that just means you need at least two. This accounts for times where you can use the Link Rating of a Link Monster you already have out to reduce the Link Rating of the Link Monster you want to bring out by the Link Rating of the Link Monster you already have out. Regardless, you must still meet the Link Monster's requirements so even if you use a Link Monster as Link Material, if a card says "2+ monsters", you still must use at least 2 monsters.

To bring out a Link Monster, gather the required Link Materials on the field, usually from your side of the field but may even include your opponent's field and send them to the Graveyard (or Extra Deck if they're Pendulum Monsters). Then, bring out the Link Monster from your Extra Deck and place it in an available Extra Monster Zone (or Main Monster Zone if a Link Monster designates it).
Tokens These are not fully Monster Cards and can be represented with a wide variety of things such as coins, pieces of paper and even actual Token Cards, with later releases actually including the information from the card that Summons them. Despite their cards having normal Yu-Gi-Oh card backs, they cannot be in your hand, Main Deck, Graveyard or Extra Deck and after they leave the field, they are essentially out of play but more specifically they disappear, which would basically mean you put them back where you took them out.
Spell Cards (previously Magic Cards)
These cards are the 2nd type of card in the Yu-Gi-Oh TCG and OCG and all have a green card border and generally can be played right away.
Normal Spell Cards  These cards have no icon next to "SPELL CARD" and are the most basic Spell Cards. Like any of the Spell Cards below, you can Set them on the field but it's important to read the card's text before using them.
Equip Spell Cards These cards have a plus sign next to "SPELL CARD" and are played by choosing a monster on the field to equip them with. Sometimes they aren't specific but sometimes they are and thus it's important to read the card and see if the conditions are right for their activation. Some Equip Spell Card effects last as long as they are equipped but others wait until you activate their effects or until other conditions are met before they activate. You cannot however equip a face-down monster with an Equip Spell.
Quick-Play Spell Cards  These cards have a zig-zag or lightning bolt symbol next to "SPELL CARD" and can be used like the Spell Card types above or be Set on the field. When you Set a Quick-Play Spell, it cannot be activated in the same turn. Like the other Spell Cards above, read the text carefully before trying to play the card.
Continuous Spell Cards These have an infinity symbol next to "SPELL CARD" and once their effects start, they continue going until the Spell Card is no longer on the field. They also do not start until any other cards in the Chain have finished. More on Chains below.
Ritual Spell Cards These cards have a flame symbol next to "SPELL CARD" and are used to perform Ritual Summons using a Ritual Monster also in your hand. They usually just list the requirements to Ritual Summon the Ritual Monster they list in their text but sometimes they have no restriction on what Ritual Monster they can Ritual Summon and can have bonus effects after the card's activation requirements. As stated earlier, read the card carefully before activating it.
Field Spell Cards The last type of Spell Card. These have a sort-of star  next to "SPELL CARD" and go in the specifically designated zone on the field called the Field Spell Zone. Much like Continuous and some Equip Spell Cards, Field Spell Card effects are active as soon as you activate them and as their name suggests, they affect the field during the duel, usually involving Monster Cards specifically. Most of the time both players' monsters are affected but some affect only one side or the other. Up until recently, only one Field Spell Card could be on the field at a time but that has since been changed to allow two Field Spell Cards on the field at once. These cards are also generally more laid back on when they can be used. You can also Set Field Spell Cards in your Field Card Zone but you can only play one at a time.
Trap Cards
These cards are the last main type of card in the Yu-Gi-Oh TCG and OCG and all have a pink or fuchsia card border and generally have to be Set before they can be activated.
Normal Trap Cards These are the most basic Trap Cards. Like either of the Trap Card types below, these cards have to be Set on the field unless otherwise stated by another card effect. As with any Spell Card or the cards below, read the card carefully before activating it and note that some Normal Trap Cards are also Equip Cards by their effect.
Continuous Trap Cards Like Continuous Spell Cards, these cards have an infinity symbol, but next to "TRAP CARD" and they remain active in the same way as Continuous Spell Cards do. These cards are generally more powerful and sometimes have a cost to stay on the field like paying a Life Point fee or discarding a card.
Counter Trap Cards These cards have a curved arrow next to "TRAP CARD" and are essentially the highest rank of Trap Cards because they are able to stop any other card effect in the game. As a result, they also sometimes come with a cost like Continuous Trap Cards have but do not stay on the field once their effects are done. These cards are generally what puts an end to Chain links as only Counter Traps can respond to these types of cards.
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 The player going first does not enter this phase of their first turn, though this was previously the case. When this phase is conducted, the current player adds the top card of their Deck to their hand.
Standby Phase  This phase is where any card effects that mention this phase are activated.
Phase 1
The current player can use this phase to Normal Summon, Flip Summon or Special Summon their monsters as well as activate or Set any Spell or Trap Cards on their field or their effects.
Battle Phase This is where the current player can attack with their monsters and/or activate any card effects that activate during this time. Usually they must be in Attack Position to attack but some Effect Monsters can bypass this rule and Attack while in Defense Mode. Either way, when you attack with a monster, there are a few situations that can occur.

Your attacking monster vs. opponent's Attack Position monster: The stronger monster wins and the loser of that battle will generally take the difference out of their Life Points. If their ATKs are equal and not 0, both monsters are destroyed and no damage is dealt to either player

Your attacking monster vs. opponent's Defense Position monster: Compare the ATK of your monster with the DEF of your opponent's monster, If your opponent's monster has higher DEF, you will take the difference as battle damage to your Life Points unless otherwise stated. If your monster has higher ATK, the opponent's monster is destroyed and no battle damage is dealt to your opponent's Life Points unless otherwise stated. If your monster's ATK equals your opponent's monster's DEF, both monsters survive and no damage is dealt to either players' Life Points unless otherwise stated. A monster attacking in Defense Mode is also basically considered attacking in Attack Position and generally will have text stating how its ATK and/or DEF are applied.
Phase 2
 The current player can use this phase to do what they did not do in Main Phase 1. Of course, they can also activate any effects that activate at this time too.
End Phase The current player uses this phase to end their turn and/or activate any effects that activate at this time. They also are required to discard cards from their hand if they have more than 6 cards in their hand unless otherwise stated.
Chains At any time in the phases of a turn above, cards can be activated in what's known as a chain. Like a real chain, chains in this game work the same way. One card is activated as Chain Link 1 and any cards activated after that become Chain Link 2, Chain Link 3, etc. If a Continuous card is activated, the effect will not take effect until everything else after it is finished. These chains can happen from any of the three types of cards and some effects cannot be chained to like Continuous Effects. Continuous Effects are any effects that take effect once they hit the field and as such do not need you to activate them yourself unless they have an activation requirement.
Wrap-Up With some luck, you'll be able to duel well enough to enter tournaments where you can use the skills you've learned above against different players. Be mindful of the Forbidden and Limited List, which includes cards that are Forbidden (you can't use), Limited (you can use 1 copy of) and Semi-Limited (you can use two copies of). You can use 3 copies of any cards not found on the  Forbidden and Limited List but do note that the original Egyptian God Cards and other such cards with "This card cannot be used in a Duel" where their password would be are not on this list at all but cannot be used in official tournament duels.
1. Try to keep your Deck around 40 cards. This increases your chances at drawing what you need.
2. Keep the number of Level 5 or higher monsters and Main Deck monsters with summoning requirements to a minimum. Otherwise you'll increase the chance of drawing them when you don't need them.

3. Build your deck with up to two strategies in case one of them fails.
4. Make sure that all cards in your Main Deck have the same sleeves when you're going to a tournament with sleeved cards because you'll be disqualified if your opponent and/or a judge finds out.

5. Have some courtesy with your opponent(s). It makes for more friendly duels and thus a better time dueling.