If you've ever read a Yu-Gi-Oh card printed before mid-2011 — and chances are, you have — you'll have noticed that the way Konami writes card effects has changed drastically over the years. It's not just that cards today have terrifying-long card text. In fact, plenty of older cards were just as wordy. These changes are the direct result of a new system implemented in 2011 to make cards easier to read and understand. That system is called Problem-Solving Card Text, or PSCT, and it's been in use ever since.
PSCT solved numerous problems that plagued the old card text writing style. It created a standard to identify which part of a card's effects were related to timing, conditions, or costs. PSCT also cleanly separated the parts of a card effect that were relevant to activation from the parts that outlined resolution. In addition, it also simplified card text by introducing new keywords like 'piercing battle damage' and 'banished'. To really appreciate just how impactful these changes are. we have to take a look at where we came from, and that means reading a few of the game's most convoluted card effects from the pre-PSCT era.
Konami's TCG division outlined their vision for PSCT in a series of official blogs by Kevin Tewart. In the first blog, he described the then-current process for understanding card effects, which usually involved checking online forums for answers about ambiguous card text. It was sometimes genuinely hard to tell whether a card targeted other cards, or if its discard 'cost' was really a cost and not something that occurred at resolution. Let's take a look at a few traps that regularly confused players in the pre-PSCT days.
Sakuretsu Armor is a simple defensive trap that was often played as a budget substitute over more expensive alternatives like Dimensional Prison and Mirror Force. Today, its effect reads: "When an opponent's monster declares an attack: Target the attacking monster; destroy that target." Even without knowing the details of PSCT, you can clearly identify a major fact about this card effect: it targets. In fact, the word 'target' is literally printed in the card text. Sakuretsu Armor's effect always targeted, of course, but that wasn't clear in its original text. One of its older printings included this effect instead: "Activate only when an opponent's monster declares an attack. Destroy the attacking monster."
Without the keyword 'target', there's no easy answer to the question, 'Does Sakuretsu Armor target?' You could extrapolate your knowledge of other card effects to try to get closer to an answer. Since Sakuretsu Armor only affected one card, it probably targeted. Mirror Force used to read: "You can only activate this card when your opponent's monster declares an attack. Destroy all Attack Position monsters on your opponent's side of the field." Mirror Force was written with an identical activation condition, but it doesn't target since it impacts multiple monsters…right? Well, what about Treacherous Trap Hole? 'Destroy 2 monsters on the field. You cannot activate this card if you have any Trap Cards in your Graveyard.' Treacherous Trap Hole does target, despite its ability to affect multiple cards simultaneously.
Eventually, you could work out a sufficiently broad understanding of card rulings to correctly estimate whether a given card did or didn't target. Luckily, PSCT makes understanding cards easy even for someone who's just getting started in the game.
The biggest advantage of Problem-Solving Card Text is its ability to separate the things that happen when a card is activated from the things that happen when a card resolves. These concepts are probably deeply ingrained in your mind if you're a veteran player or you've played other similar card games before. Activation versus resolution can be a little difficult to grasp if you're new to Yu-Gi-Oh or TCGs, but even if you have a few months of dueling under your belt, you might still have trouble reading new cards. PSCT is designed to solve that exact problem.
Let's start with the colon (:) and semicolon (;). These punctuation marks are defined in the Yu-Gi-Oh Rule Book's glossary, but they're easy to miss if you don't know what you're looking for. These marks separate activation timings and conditions, costs, and on-resolution actions from each other. The first mark you'll want to look for in any card effect is the colon. Everything before the colon describes when a card can activate. For example, Elemental HERO Stratos includes a colon in the first line of its effect, 'When this card is Normal or Special Summoned: You can activate 1 of these effects.' Normal or Special Summoning Stratos is the condition for activating its effect, and when that's met you can move to the next section of the card text.
Let's check out another classic to see how the semicolon is used. Lightning Vortex reads, 'Discard 1 card; destroy all face-up monsters your opponent controls.' Everything before the semicolon needs to be done when the card is activated, and before any other action is taken in the duel. After activating Lightning Vortex, you'll immediately discard one card before giving your opponent an opportunity to add to the chain. When it's time to resolve Lightning Vortex you'll apply the text that follows after the semicolon.
Notice that both Elemental HERO Stratos and Lightning Vortex only have one of these key punctuation marks each. More complicated cards, including many of the cards you're already playing, include multiples of each. Solemn Judgment includes a colon that indicates that it can chain to the activation of a spell or trap, or the summon of a monster, and a semicolon that specifies that its Life Point cost must be paid at activation. Not too bad, right? Knowing what the colon and semicolon separators actually mean goes a long way towards interpreting card effects correctly.
So what happens if you don't see a colon or a semicolon on a card effect? Put simply, this means that the effect doesn't activate. It merely has an effect that's always applied as long as the conditions are met. Cyber Dragon and other monsters with inherent special summons are great examples of this. Their summons don't start a chain, but your opponent can respond to the summon to start a chain of their own. Gozen Match and Dimensional Fissure also lack a colon or semicolon, but their initial activation always starts a chain. Just keep in mind that the presence of a colon or semicolon tells you that a card effect activates, and their omission only means that the effect itself doesn't activate or start a chain.
PSCT radically changed a number of terms to help make card effects more consistent. The most important change was the addition of 'banish'' as a keyword. Previously, banishing cards was called 'removing from play' which has a totally different connotation from what we're used to today. Banished sounds a lot more like a ghost being exorcized from a graveyard, and a lot less like 'get this card off the table and put it back in your deck box.' 'Removed from the field' was compressed to 'leaves the field', and piercing battle damage became an official term. 'Excavate' became an official term a few years later as Sylvans debuted, and new summoning mechanics have introduced a variety of handy terms over the years.
Phrasing changes with PSCT were especially helpful in guiding players through challenging ruling questions involving effects with multiple steps. Keywords like 'then', 'also', 'and if you do', and the classic 'and' were added in a 2012 update to PSCT to clarify the order actions are taken at resolution. There are two chief concerns here: first, does a card resolve all parts of its effect simultaneously, or in a sequence? Second, does the latter part of an effect rely on an earlier part resolving successfully? Remember that card effects can resolve and still do nothing even if they weren't negated.
Red Reboot features both an 'and if you do' and 'then' key phrase in its first effect, which reads as follows, 'When your opponent activates a Trap Card: Negate the activation, and if you do, Set that card face-down, then they can Set 1 other Trap directly from their Deck.' Let's focus on the 'and if you do' divider first. This phrase tells us that you must do the preceding action successfully before you can move to the next action. If your opponent's trap isn't negated, then their trap isn't set face-down again. The 'then' part is similar: if you didn't set the trap face-down because it wasn't negated, then your opponent can't set another trap from their deck.
The phrases 'and if you do' and 'then' follow a similar pattern: if you don't do the first action, then you can't do the second. 'And' and 'also' are different. The 'And' phrase requires both the first and second actions to happen or else nothing happens. You won't see this phrase too often on newer cards, thankfully. 'Also' appears on Book of Life, which reads, 'Target 1 Zombie monster in your GY and 1 monster in your opponent's GY; Special Summon the first target, also banish the second target.' Thanks to the 'also' keyword, you'll still special summon the Zombie from your graveyard even if you can't banish a card, and if you can't summon the Zombie you'll still get your banish.
The biggest takeaway from PSCT is its ability to clearly define how a card is meant to be played. Most of the game's effect monsters have been updated with PSCT over the years, although there are still some holdouts. This spreadsheet by former tcgplayer writer Joe Frankino (@crazdgamer on Twitter) includes an up-to-date list on every relevant card that hasn't had a printing with PSCT.
Some of these cards desperately need updating. Seriously, try reading Snyffus. It's almost physically painful trying to decipher how its first effect is supposed to work. Hard to believe that every card in the game used to be written that inconsistently! Yu-Gi-Oh is so much better off today than it was years ago, but learning the details of PSCT is still useful even for intermediate players.
Until next time then!