Xyz (pronounced ek-ZEEZ) summoning is the third kind of Extra Deck summoning introduced in Yu-gi-oh!, and the one I’m having the most trouble thinking about. There are several aspects that consume my thought with regard to creating a digital YGO clone, and importing something like Xyz into it. First, there is the matter of the extra deck mechanics themselves and the differences they would have when transferring from physical and digital. Second, there is the matter of how the history of the original game, specifically, the constraints that the designers were working with, how the game and the cartoons are poorly aligned with each other, and the problems that causes. Finally, I will say something about why I want to see a YGO clone, and why Xyz plays into it.
To perform an Xyz summon, the player first needs at least two monsters with equal levels on the field. Xyz summoning physically consists of placing the monster cards on top of each other, and then placing the Xyz monster card from the extra deck on top of the first monster cards. The first monster cards are now ‘overlay units’ attached to the Xyz monster, and most Xyz monsters can use these units to fuel various effects, by detaching them and sending them to the graveyard. As Xyz monsters have ranks instead of levels, they cannot normally be used as material for an Xyz summon.
To understand why Xyz works the way it does, you need to understand why Synchro works the way it does, and to understand why Synchro works the way it does, you need to understand fusion. Fusion summoning is the original extra deck summoning method, in fact, the extra deck was originally known as the fusion deck. To fusion summon, the player needs a fusion spell and the monsters to be used as fusion materials in their hand or on their field. The summoning itself consists of activating the spell and sending the materials to the grave, and then placing the fusion monster on the field.
There are several issues with fusion summoning as originally implemented. The first has to do with the concept of card advantage: the fact that the player with more cards has an advantage. Fusion summoning needed the player to spend three cards to get one out of the extra deck, for a net loss of two cards. The other is that the early fusion monsters required specific cards as materials, rather than using any monster that fulfilled specific criteria (i.e., a fusion monster require two monsters of different elemental attributes), and that there was originally only one fusion spell in the game, Polymerization. I rather suspect that the reason the extra deck exist at all is that the designers realized that assembling four specific cards in your hand was simply too much.
As the game went on, the designers realized that the extra deck was something unique to the game, and that the thought of monsters combining into bigger monsters was a cool idea. Through the GX era, they looked at various ways of solving the problems with the mechanic, like having fusion only requiring monsters. That particular mechanic is considered to be a precursor to Synchro summoning.
Synchro summoning depends on a class of monsters known as Tuners. Each Synchro monster has material requirement in the form of “One tuner and one or more non-tuner monster,” or something similar. To perform a Synchro summon, the player send materials to the graveyard whose levels exactly add up to the desired Synchro monster’s level, and placing the Synchro monster on the field.
Conceptually, Synchro summoning is still a form of fusion. Most Synchro monsters have visual cues linking them with main deck monsters, both tuner and otherwise. An interested thing about Sychros, however, is that because a Synchro monster can be used as Synchro material, Synchros can be used like steps on a ladder, with a succession of Synchro monsters repeatedly being combined with tuners to form successively higher-level Synchros. These means that they are intrinsically suited to having evolved forms that have transformation sequences that look good on TV.
As for the tuners, there’s no definitive quality to any of them, except their ability to be used in a Synchro. There is, however, a tendency for them to have low stats, abilities that help the player get monsters to the field, and be low-level, to help them make exact levels easier.
As for why Synchros call for exact levels, that’s probably has something to do with Normal summoning. Let me explain: a Normal summon is a type of summon that can be performed once per turn, and what needs to be done to do this depends on the level of the monster. A monster with level four or less can just be plopped on the field, while a monster with level of five or six needs a monster on the field to sent to the graveyard as tribute, while a monster of level seven or higher need two tributes. This means that, barring card effects, a level four and a level one have equal costs to summon, even though level fours tend to have much higher stats and much stronger abilities. Synchros needing exact levels, then, provides an incentive to use lower level monsters.
This need for exact levels explains why Xyz need matching levels, and why they have ranks instead of levels. The level matching is there to differentiate the mechanic from its predecessor, and the ranks are there to ensure that Xyz monsters can’t be used to summon Synchros.
To understand why the designers wanted Xyz to be incompatible with Synchros, you need to know that when Xyz summoning was introduced to the game, the fourth anime series, Yu-gi-oh Zexal, was beginning and the third series, 5Ds, was ending. That third series began at the same time that Synchros were introduced, and was the Synchro series. Every main character used a Synchro monster as their signature card, most minor characters used a Synchro monster as an ace, and most of the villains used anti-Synchro monsters, either in the sense of monsters that countered Synchros, or the literal opposite of Synchro monsters.
In the same way 5Ds was the Synchro series, Zexal was clearly intended to be the Xyz series. Every character uses Xyz monsters, pretty much every episode has a moment just to emphasize how cool the latest Xyz monster is, and the entire plot centers around collect 99 special Xyz monsters. The thing is, that the Xyz mechanic seems to have been created for the anime, and not the game.
It seems like the show’s producers wanted something for Zexal that Synchros were for 5Ds. It’s odd, how the cartoon and the game line up with each other, or rather, how they don’t. It’s like the two parts each want to be their own thing, with the game wanting the cartoons be nothing more than advertisements, while the cartoons want the game to be nothing more than merchandise.
A lot of this has to do with the fact that everything started with a stand-alone series, and only later did the card game overwhelm everything else. An effect of that is that the designers are spread out across three separate companies: the animation studio that’s making the current series, Shueisha, which published the original manga, and every comic later produced for the property, and Konami, the video game company that publishes the card game, and the only one that would regularly high game designers.
This strange system of the franchise consisting of several distinct sub-properties spread across three different companies has forced the game into a system of what I have seen called accretion: a game design technique where the designers, rather than perfecting or building on what is already in the game, simply add more subsystems, that have little to do with each other beyond the most basic of mechanics. In Yu-gi-oh‘s case, the subsystems are the summoning mechanics, and the basic mechanics are battle and the card stats. This isn’t a technique that can keep a game going forever, and has left the game in a place where it’s fully possible for a game to end on the first turn. Or at least, where every deck is trying to go into Accesscode Talker.
I suppose the reason I want to see a YGO clone is to see what happens when it has a design team that actually tries to make the most of the game, rather a bunch of people that seem rather bemused that it’s gone on as long as it has. Xyz summoning is one of the things I would be most interested in seeing adapted, especially if they kept to the implicit limits of ‘no laddering’ and ‘a monster with no overlay units has no special abilities.’ Xyz monsters can’t even be normally used for Xyz summoning (having no levels to match with anything), but the cartoon would have always needed the monsters to have impressive and dramatic transformation sequences. As for the second limit, while pretty much every Xyz monster has an ability that detaches as a cost, by the third booster pack, there were monsters with abilities that had nothing to do with overlay units at all.
I think I’ll end things there today. There are still things about Xyz summoning, but that needs to be said in a greater context, with my thoughts on the other summoning types, and the other mechanics of the game. In particular, I need to talk about the differences between an extra deck made out of physical cards, and cards simply popping into existence when specific conditions are met.
P.S. ‘Xyz’ is a ridiculous word. Did whoever named the mechanic only have five seconds?