If you want someone to believe something, tell them a number. Many folks are naturally predisposed towards numbers, since they seem objective and scientific. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in nerd fandoms, which have developed the fetishization of pseudo-scientific methods into an art form.
Now, Yu-Gi-Oh! is a complex game. It needs some rules in order to make sense. Yet – this does not excuse these rules from review. Are they keeping the complexity to the minimum required? Or are they making the game harder to pick up than is absolutely necessary?
Today, I'm here to ask this question about one of the Yu-Gi-Oh!'s sacred cows, and to explain the answer I have arrived at. The title has already given the game away, of course – I'm here to talk about Spell Speed, and why I think it should be retired.
Spell Speed is complex, yet vague
First, let's look at an important question. Once a player learns what Spell Speed is, does it help them better understand the game? Let's review. Spell Speed assigns a number from 1 to 3 to any given activation. Now, what does the assigned number tell us?
For Spell Speed 1, not much at all. A Spell Speed 1 activation could be a non-Quick-Play Spell Card activation, or an Ignition Effect activation. It could be a phase-specific Trigger Effect activation. It could be a normal Trigger Effect activation. These are completely different activations, which can be performed at completely different times. Some of them can form a Chain with each other, while others can't. One of our three categories is a catch-all, whose only meaning is "not the other two." It conveys no actual substance by itself.
Moving on to Spell Speed 2, we've got some actual meat on the proverbial bones. Spell Speed 2 activations can be added to an already-started Chain – Quick-Play Spell Card activations, Trap Card activations, and Quick Effect activations. All of these have the same opportunities to activate. Categorizing them together makes sense. For now, Spell Speed 2 gets a pass. "This activation's Spell Speed is 2" conveys relevant information.
Lastly, Spell Speed 3. Spell Speed 3 activations can be added to an already-started Chain. Sound familiar? That's the same as Spell Speed 2, above. The only special property of Spell Speed 3 activations is that only other Spell Speed 3 activations can respond to them. The only Spell Speed 3 activations are Counter Trap Card activations, so… only Counter Trap Card activations can respond to Counter Trap Card activations. Do we really need an additional category to better memorize a special property of Counter Trap Cards? This adds complexity for no real gain, so I don't think so.
To summarize: "Spell Speed 3" just explains a special property of Counter Trap Cards. "Spell Speed 2 or Spell Speed 3" describes activations that can be added to a Chain after it has been started. The only meaning of "Spell Speed 1" is "not Spell Speed 2 or Spell Speed 3". The only thing this three-level system accomplishes is separating activations that can be added to an ongoing Chain from those that can't be.
And, as it turns out, there is already a far better system for that…
Spell Speed is unnecessary
Alright, so the Spell Speed system has some issues. It's unintuitive, too complex, yet overly broad. But – don't we still need Spell Speed to play the game we're playing? Let's pretend we were to just remove all mentions of Spell Speed from the rulebook today. Wouldn't we end up in crazy land?
As it turns out, we would still be playing the exact same game we're playing today.
Modern① Yu-Gi-Oh! has another, more broadly applicable tool for telling us what effects can activate at what points in time. This tool is the Fast Effect Timing Flowchart. Every turn of every Duel you've ever played, you've been following this flowchart, whether you knew it or not. As it contains the complete gameplay flow, it also includes all times at which players can activate cards or effects. Let's have a look at what the it has to say on the subject.
In Fast Effect Timing, activations that can be added to an ongoing Chain have a name, too. They're called "Fast effects".② Once a Chain has been started, following the flowchart, you immediately end up in box D. Here, only Fast effects can be activated. "Fast effects" are the activations of Quick Effects, Quick-Play Spell Cards, and Trap Cards – in other words, exactly the same activations that also have Spell Speed 2 or 3.
As we established in the previous section, determining which activations can be added to an already-started Chain is the only purpose of Spell Speed. This purpose is already served by the Fast Effect Timing Flowchart. Spell Speed doesn't actually add anything to the game's ruleset. By simply following the flowchart, we'd still end up playing the exact same game – even if Spell Speed didn't exist.
①: Where modern means "as of 2012". The Fast Effect Timing Flowchart was adopted over a decade ago.^
②: Yes, I would consider "Fast effect" a misnomer. "Fast effect" is a class of activations. The same effect's activation can sometimes be a "Fast effect", or not, depending on context. That's a different article. ^
In this piece, I've made my case for why Spell Speed is harmful to the game. It is excessively complex, introducing a three-level system that coveys embarassingly little actual information. In its sole purpose, it is superseded by the Fast Effect Timing Flowchart, an infinitely superior resource for understanding the game. While it also has complexities, overcoming them is rewarded by the knowledge to answer the majority of questions that players commonly struggle with.
In a phase where a new player is not yet fully bought into the game, but is willing to learn, proper management of their attention may well be the most important factor in player retention. A streamlined on-boarding experience that avoids red herrings is crucial for this. Time spent parsing through complex systems with no discernible pay-off, meanwhile, will only lead to frustration.
Thus, I believe the concept of Spell Speed should be retired. There are no downsides. The game will still be the same, and will be easier to comprehend for it. All it takes is a willingness to shrug off the vestiges of ages long past, and to step boldly into our third decade.
Or, at least, that's my opinion.