Duel Writing – What to consider when writing Duels


It’s that time.  You’re ready to begin writing your incredible Yugioh fan-fiction.  You’ve come up with an interesting premise.  The plot, the characters. Maybe you’ve got that plucky shonen-style protagonist.  You’ve got your edgy rival character.  You’ve got female characters who you are determined to write properly and give some victories to for a change.  Maybe you are going to flip the script a bit and differ to the shows greatly.  You’ve prepared by watching the entire anime series, even the bad parts.  Creative expression is great and people are hopefully going to enjoy your take on the franchise.

But then, you run into a hurdle.  You aren’t just writing narrative and dialogue.  No, those are the easy parts.  You have got to write the duels between the characters.  Duel writing is an incredibly important part of the writing process.  Doing it properly is going to bring up some pretty major challenges.  This article is going to give some advice on how to write your duels and what to keep in mind.  Your story may be good, but bad duel writing could impact it.  Good duel writing is going to serve it well.  Here are some tips to consider when making your very own Yugioh duel.

Good and Bad Duels
When writing, don't rely too much on a single boss.

The anime writers have been doing this for a long time.  Even then, you end up with hits or misses.  You can point to classic or iconic duels that people love.  For instance, Sora vs Shun in ‘Yugioh Arc V.”  But then you look at almost every duel in ‘Yugioh ZeXal,’ where they all follow the same formula.  They use a throwaway card to summon an XYZ boss monster on the first turn.  Then they sit on that the whole duel and bring Yuma to 100 LP.  Then he OTKs with some variation of “Number 39: Utopia.”  It got incredibly repetitive. You want things to be fun and fresh and that means avoiding those pitfalls.

Keeping Track of Things

Let’s start with what I think is the hardest part of duel writing.  There are so many variables to keep track of.  When writing, you’ve got to keep all of this information in your head.  The Life Point counts, the cards in their hand, what is on the field, the Graveyard and so on. 

Before actually putting the duel into the story right away, try writing an outline first.  Put down the order of events and all the information.  You don’t want to make an error or plot holes, so the outline needs to list everything that’s happening.  This can be tedious, but useful.  You are also going to have to take that list and rewrite that information into story later. 

Providing Information
Remember good timing when writing interjections like Life Points.

Because you are making fan fiction, you won’t have the advantage of animation and visuals to assist you.  Maybe you can adjust your presentation in the story to display that information in other ways.  But you don’t want to disrupt the flow.  You want to be able to remind your readers of that information, without it constantly interrupting.  You’ll need to think of good times when to interject things like the current Life Points standings.

You’ll want to avoid being overly complex, so a level of simplicity is good.  Make it easy to understand for both yourself and your reader. On the flip side, you don’t want it to be too simple.  Looking like a game of Uno with just dumping down a single card every turn like a really early Yugioh episode isn’t going to be all that interesting a read.  That kind of back and forth isn’t enough as you’ll need some exciting moments.  It’s a difficult balancing act.  Still, that moment where you write an interesting combo is going to be worth it.

Hand Advantage

That’s right.  This might not be a competitive duel, but hand advantage is still very important when constructing a fictional one.  Although, for a different reason.  A writer needs content to work with and the resources available to the player is that content.  If the first turn comes around and a character splurges out their entire hand onto the field and have nothing left, then the next turn is going to be much harder.  Having to spend the entire rest of the duel with the cast top-decking can be annoying when writing it.  Especially if you are having to figure out how to make things interesting off of just one card every single time.  Just playing one card every turn and passing would drastically ruin the pacing.

I'm sure you think this one would make writing that easier?

To mitigate this, there are a few things to consider.  First, is of course being mindful of the hand size.  Make sure a player is not using up their whole hands at once.  Select cards that can make an interesting turn without having to rely on heavy combos that use the whole hand.  Cards that linger on the field get more use out of them, so playing them isn’t too bad.  Face-down Traps can be useful later.  Try to keep your character’s Monsters stay on the field as long as possible before going to the Graveyard.  Maybe some nice defensive Monsters to protect Life Points.  Or at least, try to have them float into other cards afterwards to replenish those resources.

Helping maintain the hand

Another is making good use of draw cards.  Yugioh GX used to have Jaden refresh his constantly with both “Pot of Greed” and “Elemental HERO Bubbleman” every time to get his hand back, but you can’t do that every time yourself.  Especially if you want to follow the ban-list, leaving the infamous Draw two out of the equation.  Come up with a variety of ways to draw more cards. 

When thinking about a recurring character’s deck, come up with a few interesting signature draw cards they can use to get that hand back.  I have a preference for “Defense Draw”, because it helps lengthen the duel by stopping damage and also draws a card.

Defense Draw and cards like that can be very useful for writing yourself out of some trouble

The hand is not the only resource.  Modern Yugioh has made the Graveyard a very useful place to put cards.  The anime has also followed that path, with Yusaku in Vrains having a lot of Monsters do extra things in the Graveyard.  This is incredibly useful in writing as you can stretch out what the cards do, without having to spend any extra cards in your hand.  You can dump monsters directly from the deck to the Graveyard to do more things later, such as revive or banish themselves to stop an attack or something.  Using the Graveyard allows you to have things happen without worry of reducing your hand too much.

Alternatively, you could do a Rush Duel storyline like in Yugioh Sevens and just draw a whole new hand every turn.  That would certainly make things much easier!

Cards in the deck

When creating your duelists for the story, you may be tempted to write up their whole deck-list in advance.  Forty awesome cards that are consistent.  While you’ll want to have some signature cards for sure, you’ll want to be a little looser with deck-building.  This isn’t competitive Yugioh in real life, after all.  You have to consider story-telling.

Sometimes you may find yourself in a situation where you’ve written yourself into a corner.  If your deck is rigidly planned in advance, you may not have the solution to get out of that.  Situational cards may not be great in real life, but in writing, they can be very helpful.  The character playing the right card to move forward the duel in an interesting way.  Because of that, keep a number of deck slots open.  Then when the situation arises, think of something that can slot in the right moment.

You may be tired of the “Waboku” clones in Yugioh anime, but they serve a purpose.  Having all these protection cards allow you to not have the duel over in a single turn.  Setting may not be all that popular in real life anymore, but in stories, it can create intrigue about what the face-down is.  Then the face-down will be useful for protecting a character’s Monster from destruction or your character’s Life Points. 

Action Spells like Evasion may solve a problem, but writing the same card frequently can be repetitive.

The reason so many similar yet different cards with these purposes were made was for variety.  Arc V made use of the same couple Action Cards over and over like “Evasion” for this purpose, keeping the deck relatively Trap free.  While that freed up deck space from some situational stuff, it also became quite repetitive.  It goes to show how every decision will have pros and cons.  A writer will have to figure out what works best.

Custom Cards or not?

So after thinking about all these cards that are used in your story duel, a question arises.  Are you going to include Custom Cards you made yourself or not?  This question has more layers, though.  You may have your story involved a custom archetype, but do you want custom generic staples too?  Some of those aforementioned “Waboku” clones made custom to how you want them to direct the duel in a certain way.

With a custom archetype, you also have the previous problem of figuring out how to write them into the duel.  You may not be able to show off every card you prepared in advance.  You may have to make up some new ones to facilitate showing some off.  Keep summoning conditions in mind.  Yes, you may want flashy moments for a boss monster having a unique way of summoning.  However, you need to keep in mind what is doable in the context of the duel.  Are you able to ramp up that moment with the content you currently have?

What goes into the Customs?

There’s a lot to be said about making custom cards properly, that would be a discussion in and of itself.  It’s tempting to write a bunch of bloated effects into the card.  After all, you can combat the card advantage problems if a card does a bunch of things.  But you don’t want to over-complicate things either.  Cards may be somewhat situational, but you don’t want it too situational.  You want to make your new cards easy to understand.  After all, these are cards the reader would not be familiar with until that point.

Some not real cards just aren't worth writing into it, including this infamous example
Don’t go too far with the customs, though.

There’s a lot to think about when writing customs.  Not being too overpowered, writing the problem-solving-card-text properly, so on and so forth.  I recommend discussing them with other people and having them help out.  Maybe even do a test duel with a friend using them to get an idea of how they play and what tweaks to make.

A writer may not want to put in custom cards too and that’s perfectly alright.  They want it to represent what already exists in the game without adding a bunch of other things.  If you do this though, you’ll have to work with what’s already around instead of inventing something to get you out of a sticky writing corner.  Of course, it’s always best to not get into the corners in the first place, but if you find yourself in one, it’s good to plan for it.

Pacing and Mixing into the Narrative

Are you writing in a hand-trap?  Think about the best time for that.

The way the duel works also needs to make some sense.  You want an important monster to remain on the field for a couple turns to do something.  However, the opposing player could easily out it based on what they currently have.  Are they just going to be stupid and not play that card so that monster can stay?  No, you’ll need to tweak things so that the players can still make realistic moves with what they have.  So you have to juggle the actual plays in the duel with the narrative.

This leads into the pacing and the narrative.  Some duels might be over in a couple turns and seem one-sided, so you need to fix that.  You could make the turns really long, but you want to have a level of back and forth too.  That’s why the duels may not be as competitive as in real life.  Have the players do a little bit less than a competitive player would do and not cycle through a lot of the deck in one turn.  Just a few actions per turn on average is simple enough to allow progression between the players, while not having not much happen on a turn.  They can’t just set and pass all the time, either.

Exciting Moments

You want to keep things interesting while the card game is happening and tie in to the narrative.  There’s the plot progression as the duel mixes in with the dialogue as the characters work out their issues.  Yugioh has always included characters gaining understanding of each other as the duel goes on.  Because of this, you want to find the right points in the duel to interject that kind of stuff.

cool boss monster moment

Then there is the right time for those flashy moments.  Once you’ve got everything set up, you can let loose and have that cool boss monster appearance.  Or that big victory.  The story is the most important part after all and the reason why you are considering that Yugioh fan-fiction most likely.  The duel likely takes a back seat to that story, although hopefully this article gives you good things to keep in mind when incorporating the duel into it.


Frankly, duel writing is a huge balancing act.  You have to keep a whole bunch of information in your head.  You are both players in a duel, having to think about the plays they could make and the cards they have at any one time.  And you want to make the plays believable, but you want to have exciting anime-style moments.  There’s extremes on both ends for so many aspects of this you could find yourself leaning into.  Finding that middle ground isn’t easy.  Even I struggle massively when trying this in one way or another.  But I think the struggling was a good way of pointing out what needs to be thought about when doing this.

If you plan to make a Yugioh fan-fiction, or any card game story for that matter, you’ll find that the duel writing makes it a different endeavour to writing another kind of story.  There’s a lot of decisions you’ll have to make.  It can go wrong and you may not be happy with what you did.  It may need rewriting more than the average story in that respect.  When you do it, I wish you luck and I hope you have the tools to put out a really awesome duel.



Hi, I'm Aryeh and I've been a Yugioh fan since Kaiba/Yugi Starters back in the day. I'm a collector and deck-builder, my favourite cards are Red-Eyes Darkness Dragon and The Wicked Avatar. I'm also a moderator on the Yugioh subreddit and also /r/YugiohShowcase

10 thoughts on “Duel Writing – What to consider when writing Duels

  • Avatar
    October 21, 2020 at 3:21 pm



    I thought this was a Duel Links article, but i’m not dissapointed.

  • Avatar
    October 21, 2020 at 4:12 pm



    Good job on the article.

  • Avatar
    October 21, 2020 at 4:30 pm



    reading this made me want to write a yugioh fanfiction

  • Avatar
    October 22, 2020 at 1:25 pm



    Yeah! Yu-Gi-Oh: Beyond the anime wall. That might be an extra when we get DSOD on Dvd.

  • Avatar
    October 22, 2020 at 2:01 pm



    which will never happen. its all digital

  • Avatar
    October 22, 2020 at 3:31 pm



    I highly doubt there’ll be a DVD release, luckily.

  • Avatar
    October 22, 2020 at 4:02 pm



    How do you make the Table of Contents like that?

  • Avatar
    October 22, 2020 at 4:04 pm



    It’s part of the articles

  • Avatar
    October 23, 2020 at 11:11 am



    Ahh, this article reminds of my middle school days of writing Yugioh GX fanfictions…. Great article!

  • Avatar
    October 29, 2020 at 6:12 pm



    That said, anyone got any fanfic recommendations?

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