Back in the mid to late 2000’s, I was really heavily invested in the trading card game Yu-Gi-Oh. The card game, which was popularised by the existence of an anime series by the same name, focuses on players summoning monsters, dealing damage, powering things up with spells, and activating traps to halt your opponent’s progress. The game has been around for around twenty years now, and a lot has changed over that time.
When I was most heavily invested in Yu-Gi-Oh, the flow of the game was pretty simple. Weak monsters could be summoned once per turn to the field. You needed to get rid of one or more monsters to bring out a stronger monster, so much of the game pacing was about trying to get multiple monsters alive, and keep them alive, long enough to bring out your deck’s heavy hitters. There were a few other ways to get strong monsters out, like fusing two very specific creatures together with the help of a Polymerisation card, or ritual summoning a rare card with its specific summoning components and spell card, but largely the game’s pacing was very slow and methodical.
A lot of this changed with the introduction of Synchro summons, the first of many summoning types which were introduced to increase the flow of play, and shift the game towards much longer turns with decks that could exceed the usual one monster per turn pace.
I was still playing Yu-Gi-Oh when Synchro summons were first introduced, and I found them not too difficult to understand, but after losing my whole card collection in my late teens, I pretty much backed away from the TCG for the best part of a decade. In that time, the mat layout was changed, and several key rules were altered in ways I didn’t understand. It was no longer a game I knew how to play, perhaps like many of you reading this.
This past weekend, I was invited by Konami to travel to Berlin, and experience the 2019 Yu-Gi-Oh World Championships live as they happened. As an old superfan of the TCG and anime, who was so out the loop, I decided to go, but to do a bunch of research before leaving. So, without any further ado, here’s my explanation of the evolution of Yu-Gi-Oh’s mechanics over the years. If you’ve not played in as long as I have, hopefully these explainers will help clear things up.
With a new Yu-Gi-Oh game coming to Switch next week, with zero microtransactions involved, now’s a great time to relearn the game if like me you’re lapsed.
So, Synchro Summons are in essence fusion monsters, without the need for a dedicated fusion card like Polymerisation. These are monster cards you may have seen with a grey white border.
Typically the monsters that need combining to make a Synchro are somewhat looser than a fusion monster, as a general rule of thumb only needing two or more monsters out on the field whose levels add up to the level of the synchro you want to summon. Additionally, some monster cards now are labeled “tuner” monsters. These basically act as your Polymerisation in this equation, you need one tuner and one or more non tuners to make a Synchro. Occasionally there will be more specific stipulations about material, but the card will usually explain that up the top of the card text.
Synchro Summons are popular because they are a pretty easy type of special summon, allowing players to get out powerful monsters more quickly. Additionally, because they sit around in your Extra Deck with things like fusion monsters, you don’t have to wait to draw them from the deck to be able to summon them. They don’t need you to draw a card like Polymerisation to create them, and there’s usually a much wider variety of monster combinations which can summon them. They’re versatile, and often have very strong effects beyond just their raw attack and defense.
This was the first archetype to really speed up the pace of bringing out strong monsters, and arrived at a similar time to the move to more deck types that have effects they will special summon things from the deck or grave. Many Synchro monsters have abilities which can help you kick off a big loop of actions your deck might be centred around.
XYZ Summons are kind of like fusions and Synchro summons, but with the added twist that materials used for the monster’s creation are not instantly sent to the graveyard as a cost of the summoning. These are monster cards you may have seen with a black border.
So, let’s say you want to summon a level 4 XYZ monster from your extra deck, you’ll need two (or more if the card specifically asks) monsters of the same level. As a rule of thumb, any two level four monsters will do, unless the XYZ card states otherwise. Forget about tuners from Synchro summoning, it doesn’t matter if any of them are or are not tuners.
You place the two matching level monsters (level four in our example) on top of each other, then summon the new level four XYZ monster on top of that.
The idea behind XYZ cards is they tend to have really really sought after effects, but the materials used to summon it act as a limiter on how often that effect can be used. Typically, using their abilities depletes the stack of materials under the monster, meaning they get less useful over time.
An example of a basic XYZ effect might be discarding one of those above mentioned level four monsters, in order to negate an attack from an opponent’s monster.
Okay, stick with me if you’re an old school Yu-Gi-Oh fan, because this is where summoning gets wild, and is probably going to feel pretty alien to you.
So, there has been a change to the playing area now, and the left and right most magic and trap card zones can also be used to summon a special type of monster called a pendulum monster. These are monster cards you may have seen with blue and red gems in the top of their card description box.
So, here’s the deal; these monsters can be used as basically magic cards, taking up spaces on your magic and trap row, rather than being summoned normally as monsters if you so choose. These are not considered summons if used this way, so you can play two pendulum monsters to the sides of the magic and trap card zone if you wish, and still do a normal summon that same turn.
If you look at the blue and red crystals and their numbers, these are used to create a scale of numbers. Place a low number blue on the left, and a high number red on the right. This set of numbers is really important.
Once you have these two monsters out, you can special summon from your hand, or your extra deck (well, this was the case when introduced, more on this later), as many monsters as you like, ignoring their regular summoning conditions. This means if you had a blue one and a red nine as your pendulum numbers, you could summon as many level two to level eight monsters as you like per turn, for free. You can’t summon monsters of the levels of the pendulum numbers, only levels in between.
You can only use this effect once per turn, but it’s a powerful way to get lots of monsters out very fast, sidestepping more complicated summoning rules if wanted.
This is the summoning type that really sent Yu-Gi-Oh off the rails for a little while, as it was a method for spamming players most powerful monsters with incredible speed. It’s probably the reason for the final big change to the game, which sought to lessen the power of some of the above summoning types and reign them in a little.
So, Link Summons are another type of special summon, but this time based in no way on the levels of your existing monsters. Link Summons are these blue monster cards you may have seen with arrows around their edges, and they have a Link number in the bottom right of their card rather than a defense number. They cannot be played in defense position.
You summon a Link monster by sending a number of monsters equal to the Link level to the graveyard. So, if you want to summon a Link 3 monster, you need to sacrifice any three monsters (unless other more specific restrictions apply on what can be used as a material). If a link is used as material for another link, you can treat it as being worth its Link number of sacrifices if desired, so you could sacrifice one Link 3 to summon a different Link 3.
Now, let’s get onto the board change for Link summons. You may notice there is now a pair of extra monster slots on the field between the standard players rows of five, one for each player. These are now the only place you can typically summon extra deck monsters to. Yep. You used to be able to Synchro summon, XYZ summon, or Pendulum Summon extra deck monsters to any space you like. Now they can only go to that one special space. This stops players from Pendulum summoning all their strongest XYZ, Fusion, and Synchro monsters at once.You can still pendulum summon as many monsters from your hand to those five slots as you like, but anything extra deck goes to that one special slot.
So, what to Link summons do? Well, other than limiting the power of Pendulum summoning, they also have these arrows on them which point to other spaces on the board. The basic idea is that if you summon a Link monster to your extra deck zone, any regular monster zones its arrows point to can now be used for extra deck summons. So, with a single Link 3 monster in your extra deck zone, pointing down to the left, down, and down to the right, you would now have three of your monster zones available to Synchro, XYZ, or Fusion summon into.
Link monsters basically control the pace at which the previous decade of new summon types can activate. it’s a new summon type basically because the old ones got a little out of hand.
And there you go, that’s basically the new mechanics in Yu-Gi-Oh you’ve maybe missed. Obviously, a lot of this is easier said than internalised and played within, but hopefully this makes the mechanics make enough sense that it’s less daunting to look at new cards and have a sense how they function. With a new Yu-Gi-Oh game coming to Switch next week, with zero microtransactions involved, now’s a great time to relearn the game if like me you’re lapsed.