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Magic - The Gathering

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Invented in 1993, Magic: The Gathering, or M:tG as it is sometimes called, is roughly similar to a board game, but without a board. It is one of the growing number of Customisable Card Games that are mushrooming amongst the gaming community. Magic comprises around 5,000 different cards, and of these you choose 60 with which to make a deck, any four of which may be copies of any single card*.

Each player uses a different deck, and play proceeds according to the rules until one player is dead*.

The fact that you need only carry around your deck, and possibly some glass beads or ornately carved pewter figurines with which to mark your score, means M:tG is playable in such places as school cafeterias, and banquet halls which have been rented out for the purpose of tournaments. Its two downfalls are the complexity of the rules, and the high cost of cards.

The Rules

Each player represents a Planeswalker, a mage of such great power they may walk between locations and planes of reality almost at will. The object of the game is to defeat your fellow planeswalkers with the use of powerful magical spells. This can be done in several ways.

  • Reducing their life total from 20 to 0.
  • Causing them to draw more cards than are in their library*.
  • Giving them ten poison counters*.
  • Generating a game state so annoying that they give up in disgust.

There are also cards which specifically lose you the game if a certain event occurs.

Now it's Your Turn

Each player takes their turn in succession, and each turn is divided into phases, most of which are divided into smaller steps. These phases and steps are:

  • Start of turn
    1. Untap step
    2. Upkeep step
    3. Draw step
  • First main phase
  • Combat phase
    1. Start of combat step
    2. Declare attackers step
    3. Declare blockers step
    4. Combat damage step
    5. End of combat step
  • Second main phase
  • End of turn phase
    1. End step
    2. Cleanup step

Untap Step

The concept of Tapping and Untapping has not yet been raised, but briefly, an ability which requires tapping a card is the sort of thing that you can't just do with impunity. Say you had a lesser magician working for you (let's call him Tim), and Tim is magical, but he can only do so much magic every day. Once he has done all the magic he can do for a day (usually consisting of shooting someone with a tiny bolt of fire), he taps, and cannot shoot more fire until he untaps.

During this step everything under your control untaps*. Nothing else happens during this step.

Upkeep Step

This step is where you pay any upkeep costs. For instance, say you had a big fat Djinn or Efreet under your control. This spirit doesn't necessarily want to serve you, so you must pay it off with magical energy, or perhaps with some of your own health. If you feel like playing some really fast spells, or using your creatures to do nasty things to your opponent, you might do that here too.

Draw Step

During this step you draw a card, and do any of the things you neglected to do during the Upkeep Step.

Main Phase

Here you can do things like asking creatures to fight for you, hurling huge balls of fire at your opponent, buying magical artefacts, and enchanting yourself or others.

Combat Fight! Fight! Fight!

The favourite phase of many a player, here you send your creatures to attack your opponent. They may use their creatures to block some of your creatures, following which there is a huge brawl, and usually a lot of creatures end up dead.

End Step

Sometimes things happen at the end of turn. For instance, if you have an Atlas, you might draw a card at the end of the turn, as long as you didn't play any of the cards known as Lands. Most of the time your End Step will be used by your opponent to do things that they would have done sooner, if it wouldn't have left them vulnerable.

Alright, Everybody, Let's Clean Up!

This step is used to take away certain temporary effects. For instance, if a card did something until the end of the turn, it would stop working here. Any creatures who were damaged, but not killed, would be healed here. Finally, if you have more than seven cards in your hand during your own Cleanup Step, you will choose seven of them, and discard the rest.

It's in the Cards

Of course, it's not too useful knowing how a turn works when there's nothing going on in the turn. For this, you need cards. There are six different types of cards. Of these, the Lands, Creatures, Artefacts, and Enchantments are all known collectively as Permanents.


Even powerful mages such as yourself needs to draw their energy from somewhere. This is where Lands enter the picture. Lands contain magical energy called mana which comes in several different varieties, about which more will be said later. To play almost any other cards, you need Mana, which is why most decks contain between one third and one half Lands. Plains, Forests, Mountains, Swamps, and Islands are collectively known as Basic Lands. A deck may contain as many Basic Lands as you like.


Those lands aren't always uninhabited. Sometimes they will have residents such as Goblins, Elves or Merfolk. If you want these creatures to serve you, which you do, you need merely influence them with some Mana, and they will fight for you, or use their talents to further your goals.

Creatures have two attributes, Power and Toughness, which no other cards have.

Power represents the creature's strength, or how powerful a weapon they wield, or otherwise how effective they are at pulverizing other creatures. When a creature is in combat, it deals damage equal to its power to either the creatures it blocks or is blocked by, or, if they are attacking and unblocked, to the player being attacked.

Toughness represents the creature's mettle, how much pain they can suffer before they shuffle off the mortal coil. If a creature has no Toughness, it dies; damage to creatures can be considered -1 to Toughness until end of turn. Power and Toughness are written on the bottom right of a creature card, in Power/Toughness format.

Creatures usually have more to them than just power and toughness. Here is a list of abilities creatures may have.

First Strike - Creatures with First Strike deal combat damage before creatures without First Strike.

Flying - Creatures without flying cannot block creatures with flying.

Haste - Creatures normally cannot attack or use abilities that require them to tap the turn they come into play. If they have Haste, they can.

Trample - When a creature with Trample attacks and is blocked, once the creatures blocking it are all dead, the leftover damage goes through to the attacked player.

Protection - A creature with protection from X cannot be the target of any spells or abilities that are X, cannot be blocked by creatures that are X, and are immune to damage from sources that are X. However, they are still affected by non-targeted, non-damage effects.

There are also abilities such as echo, phasing, and shadow, but these abilities are short lived and rarely appear on cards in more than three different sets.


If you want to do something that has a lasting duration, enchantments are the way to go. If you build a castle for your creatures to hide in, or drag the battle into a fiery field, or write an inspiring song to rally your troops, these are all enchantments. Some enchantments are localized; for instance, if you want to turn one of your creatures into a vampire, or get the local authorities to arrest one of your opponents creatures, or convince one of them to join your side, you would use a local enchantment.


Sometimes you want a wide ranging effect, but you're not the right kind of mage for that particular job. For instance, not all kinds of mages can use the spells that you need to draw more cards. However, if you buy a book filled with knowledge, it will help you to learn your spells more rapidly, and thus let you draw cards. The people who sell you such artefacts don't care what kind of Mana you use to pay for them.


Sometimes a Creature is the right man/goblin/monster for the job, but sometimes you want to blow up the entire known world. If the latter sounds like your cup of tea, Sorceries are the cards for you. These have varied effects, but generally speaking are quite powerful.


These are like Sorceries, but are faster. They are less powerful than Sorceries that cost the same amount, but the added speed makes them more versatile. For instance, Sorceries can only be played during your own Main Phase, while instants can be played at any time except the Untap and Cleanup steps. Also, if you see that your opponent plans to blow up the known world, you can respond by using a few choice instants to destroy a few of their creatures.

She Comes in Colours...

Not all Mana is the same. For instance, the Mana you get from a gloomy bog is not the same Mana that you might get from, say, a vernal glade. The five colours of Mana, and thus, the five colours of Magic, are White, Green, Red, Black, and Blue.


White is the colour of happy people, of angels, and those who strive to do only good. White has many powerful effects, but fewer powerful creatures. Some themes white often uses are gaining life, and influencing Enchantments and Artefacts. White Mana comes primarily from Plains.


Green is the colour of nature, of trees and animals. Many mages think green is a weak colour, but green has its own strengths. Some of green's tricks are getting a lot of Mana really fast, getting a lot of Creatures really fast, getting really large Creatures, and getting Creatures which regenerate, that is, that can keep themselves from dying. Green Mana is immanent in Forests.


Red is the colour of chaos, of fire and rock. Red can be fast, but the red mage can sometimes find himself with nothing left to do but attack, attack, attack. Red's favourite themes are destroying lands and damaging Creatures and mages without putting their own Creatures at risk. Red Mana comes from Mountains.


Black is the colour of death and evil. Black mages will often use their life as just another resource. Black's typical themes are killing Creatures outright and taking cards out of your hand. Black Mana comes from swamps.


Blue is the colour of thought and artifice. Blue mages prefer to take control of the fight, rather than jumping out and winning it quickly. Blue likes to draw cards, take Permanents or send them back to their owner's hand, and prevent spells from ever occurring. Blue Mana comes from Islands.

Dig Your Own Grave

There is one additional location in play: the Graveyard. Whenever a Sorcery or Instant is played, or any other card is destroyed or discarded, it is put into the Graveyard. There are some cards that take cards from the graveyard and put them somewhere else, like in your hand, your library, or sometimes even into play.

Anything Can Be Had... for a Price

Every card other than Lands has a cost. This cost is located in the top right corner of a card, and consists of a coloured part and a generic part. The coloured part must be paid with Mana of the appropriate colour, but the generic part can be paid with Mana of any type.

To pay the cost, you must first get Mana. Usually this means you will tap Lands. To tap a Land, you turn it 90 degrees to the right. This usually adds 1 Mana of the appropriate colour to a place called the Mana pool, which is like a wallet for Mana-money. Some Lands produce more than one Mana, and some Lands produce Mana of more than one type, or have abilities other than Mana production.

Once you have the Mana you need, you play the spell. Right away, all the Mana you need leaves your wallet and forms the spell. Assuming nothing happens to the spell, it goes wherever is appropriate: Permanents go into play, and Instants and Sorceries do their thing, and go to your Graveyard.

Any Mana left in your Mana pool at the end of the step or phase deals one damage to you, then leaves your pool. This is called 'Mana Burn'.

Now That You've Got the Idea...

There are two versions of the game that you can choose from if you're just getting started. The first is Starter, which reduces the game to Lands, Creatures, and Sorceries. The second is Classic, the current edition of the 'Basic Set', which contains some cards which have been around since the beginning of the game, and others which were in previous expansions, but which are sufficiently interesting that they warranted reprinting. Both versions have preconstructed decks, so you won't need to worry about building a deck until you're really into the game.


Of course, the Basic Set isn't good enough for every player. Some skilled players prefer more advanced strategy, and for them there are expansions. These sets are released every four months or so, in blocks of three. The first set averages about 350 cards, and contains basic Lands; the other two average 140-150 cards each, and expand on any new concepts introduced in the large set.


Once you have played magic for a while, you may consider yourself good enough to play in a tournament*. First, you need to find an upcoming tournament. These usually occur not too far from anywhere Magical cards are sold, so you shouldn't have a problem with that. Then you need to prepare for that specific tournament. Some tournaments let you use whatever cards you want, while others say you can only use cards from specific sets, while yet more give you cards, and make you build a deck with just those. Whatever type of tournament it is, try to be well prepared, and if you have to bring your own deck, try to build it well in advance, so you have a chance to practice with it. Some tournaments require you to be a member of the DCI to participate. Don't be daunted, membership is free, and you can join at any of these tournaments.


Wizards of the Coast make the game, and have an online store, as well as information about M:tG and other games.

The Dojo is a site dedicated to tournament play and higher level magic. There are also articles on strategy and casual play.

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