Gameplay revolves around three types of cards; Monster, Spell, and Trap. Monster cards are summoned by each player to attack the opposing player's monsters or life points or defend against their attacks. With some exceptions, each monster typically possesses ATK and DEF points, which are used to determine the results of battles, Levels, with more powerful monsters requiring tributes or special summoning techniques to summon, and Types and Attributes, which determine how they are affected by other cards. Normal and Effect monsters are stored in the Main Deck and are either Normal Summoned once per turn, Tribute Summoned by tributing existing monsters on the field, or Special Summoned by certain card effects.
Ritual Monsters are stored in the Deck and summoned using a corresponding Ritual Spell card. Four other types of monster, Fusion, Synchro, Xyz, and Link, are stored in the Extra Deck and each require unique methods to be Special Summoned to the field.
Fusion Monsters require a card with a fusion effect, such as Polymerization, to merge monsters. Synchro Monsters are summoned by combining the levels of a Tuner-type monster with other non-Tuner monsters. Xyz Monsters, which possess Ranks instead of levels, are summoned by stacking monsters with the same level, which can then be used as Xyz material to be used for certain effects.
Link Monsters, which possess a Link rating instead of a Level and do not possess DEF points, are summoned using multiple monsters and possess Link Markers that affect spaces on the field that they point to. Monsters marked with a green gradient are Pendulum monsters which can be placed in Pendulum Zones and used for Special Summoning multiple monsters at once. Token monsters, represented by either official cards or makeshift counters, are summoned through effects for defense or tributing purposes and cannot exist outside the field.
Spell cards are magical spells with a variety of effects, such as raising ATK points or reviving destroyed monsters. They can be played from the hand during a player's turn or placed faced down for activation on a later turn. They come in six varieties; Normal, Quick Play, Continuous, Equip, Ritual, and Field. Trap cards are placed on the field face-down in advance and activated in response to certain criteria, such as an opponent's attack. These come in three varieties; Normal, Continuous, and Counter.
All monster cards possess a type and attribute. Types include Warrior, Machine, and Dragon. While there exists 25 types, there are only six attributes. They are as follows: Dark, Earth, Fire, Light, Water, Wind, and Divine. The most common of all of the attributes is the Dark attribute. The Divine attribute has by far the fewest members at just six and includes the Egyptian god cards; Obeliesk the Tormentor, Slifer the Sky Dragon, and the Winged Dragon of Ra.