So, you want to get your friends to play Yugioh online. Or maybe you are the friend who wants to get into playing Yu Gi Oh online. Or maybe you need to get your grandpa’s soul back from Maximillion Pegasus. Whatever your situation, learning a game like Yu Gi Oh can be a steep learning curve – but you’re in luck, aspiring duelist: there are two main free ways to play Yugioh online games on the market right now to help you get your game on.
Yu Gi Oh! Duel Links, the earlier of the two titles, drops players into an anime-inspired virtual world where you can play with the best Yugioh decks, as your favourite Yugioh characters from the anime (and also Syrus). Likewise, Yu Gi Oh! Master Duel dropped in January 2022, with a slick new look and the promise of a very authentic experience. When you’re ready, check out our guide to the current Yugioh Master Duel meta decks for that game’s top-tier deck choices, and the latest Yugioh banlist to make sure your decks are up-to-date.
The most recent online game, Yugioh Cross Duel, is a slightly different beast, which we’ll come to later. For now, here’s a look at the two dominant free-to-play Yu Gi Oh online games and how they stack up as entry points for monster-summoning newcomers.
What do Master Duel and Duel Links have in common?
The two ways to play YuGiOh online do, naturally, share a bunch of common factors. Duel Links and Master Duel are both based on the OCG, or the current Japanese rulings for the game.
This means that, while they can teach the basics, certain mechanics and limitations may be different from how the game plays in the West.
Second, they don’t allow trading between users, and the way to collect cards is via gacha mechanics – pulling cards from packs bought with premium currency which is awarded to the player for completing ingame achievements and missions, and is also available to be bought with real money.
Additionally, neither game has an in-game decklist searcher, and newbies looking for advice to build decks for specific archetypes will have to check fan wikis and other sites.
Despite both being recognizably Yu Gi Oh, the graphics and presentation of the two games vary quite a bit. Master Duel, as the newer title, is much more graphically intense, and largely uses 3D effects and models.
It’s got a cleaner UI by far, and is far less overwhelming than Duel Links, but its animations tend to be slower, sometimes to a painful degree – even when they look good, such as in the explosive match-ending last strike.
Duel Links is comparatively crowded -very much the typical gacha game in having a massive amount of information on the screen at once.
However, it leans heavily on its anime inspiration, drawing the player in with character banter, character-specific music and summon animations, and a very satisfying win animation that blows the opposing character back with a scream, exactly like the victories in the anime.
Despite sharing the general gacha game premise, the way the two games handle it is different. Both Duel Links and Master Duel give new players enough currency to build a functional deck by getting through the introductory missions, and both will take a little while to save up for a truly competitive deck.
Duel Links goes for a system where you pull packs from an always-available box that contains a set number of copies of each card. Ultra-rares are hard to come by, but eventually you are basically guaranteed to get a copy of the card you want, with just how quickly depending on luck. Boxes are always available in the game’s store, and there is a ‘trader’ that allows breaking down of cards to purchase from a set roster of cards.
Master Duel, on the other hand, is more forgiving, introducing ‘pity rates’ into the mix, guaranteeing that, if you don’t get an Ultra-rare from one group of packs, you will get one from the next. The game also features a robust crafting system that’s much more straightforward and useful than the trader.
However, it also heavily restricts the boxes players can pull packs from, by means of a rather arcane ‘secret box’ system where you must pull from the main box or craft specific cards to gain access to a box that specialises in certain archetypes of cards. Overall, Master Duel is the more hassle-free gacha experience.
Accessibility for new players
Ultimately, though, presentation and ease of getting new cards play second and third banana to the biggest question on the table: how much does each game help new players get the hang of things? Let’s look at accessibility.
Both games have tutorials of arguably equal effectiveness, and allow spectating ranked matches, so we’ll look elsewhere to compare things – and the biggest difference in terms of easing new players in is the format. Master Duel uses the standard rules that most people are familiar with, while Duel Links uses the speed duel format, with half the deck size and a three-wide field instead of five.
This makes a huge difference in the complexity of the game, limiting some of the more insane combos, reducing the mental load in keeping track of the field, and making duels go significantly faster. In other words, new players get more, easier matches.
Another consideration is the skills in play. Master Duel plays very authentically to the base game, but Duel Links has different skills based on the character you’re playing, which can be paired to certain (usually thematic for the character) decks to make them more viable than they would be otherwise. While this can add a layer of complexity, it gives players a direction to aim for when looking to build decks they liked from the anime (or, at least, makes certain decks much easier to wrangle).
And, last but not least, Duel Links has an auto-duel button that allows you to let the computer play your deck for you in matches against computers.
This sounds underwhelming, but it is a lifesaver for people who struggle with conceptualising how to play a deck. With that as the final blow, Duel Links comes out the clear winner for approachability and accessibility.
There are a few other considerations (lifespan, for instance – Master Duel will likely outlast the older Duel Links), but after everything, Duel Links comes out the winner for beginner-friendliness as an intro to the sometimes dizzying experience that is Yu Gi Oh.
TCG veterans may find Master Duel to be a more fulfilling experience, but if you have a friend or are the friend who has trouble getting started, Duel Links is for you.
So get downloading and let it be time… to duel!