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Magic: the Gathering Beginners’ Guide

Have you ever seen people sitting around in places, such as coffee shops/cafes playing these strange card games? Don’t you ever just think that they look peculiar playing these strange card games? You do? How dare you, I am one of these strange grown men with an affiliation of playing card games in coffee shops and cafes. In fact, come to think of it, I normally play these at places such as the local Starbucks (or in my case one of the other coffee shops that are jotted around Bristol, such as the Coffee King in Cribbs Causeway).

Whilst it’s all well and good that people like me will sit around and play these card games, if you’ve ever been swayed by them in the past then you’d realise they seem incredibly complex to get into. Especially the one we’re talking about today – Magic: the Gathering.

Garruk Gone bad

Magic: the Gathering is developed by Wizards of the Coast (You know, them guys who also do Dungeons & Dragons releases?) It’s gained popularity over the past few years as one of the major card games, along with other established games like the Yu-Gi-Oh! and Pokemon Trading Card Games. But how does Magic: the Gathering stack up? Today I’ll go over the basic rules of M:tG and hopefully get you on your way to becoming a Magic: the Gathering player. First some context as to how I got into Magic.

I went to Amsterdam with a friend to visit one of my old gaming friends from my days playing World of Warcraft. I was obsessed with that game and so to meet up with people in real life who I was so used to playing games with every day, it felt like there was a lot more to it. When we got there, our gaming friend said “Have you ever played Magic?” to which I responded “Well, I can do this really cool trick with my thumb.”

Not this kind of magic! Thanks to this page for this picture.

Not this kind of magic! Thanks to this page for this picture.

He sat me and my friend down and gave us decks: He gave me a white coloured deck and my friend had a black coloured deck. My deck was centric around soldiers whereas my friends was centric around zombies. We played for hours on end as we got to grips with the game and it got me buying my own cards as I found the game both fascinating and a lot of fun. It was also going to be a very socially rewarding game.

Many years on, I’m still a Magic: the Gathering player. Here’s my offering back to those who are looking to start this complex, competitive but thoroughly creative game.

Reading a card

Serra Angel

We’ll be going from top to bottom of this card, a very well known Magic: the Gathering “staple” card. Seen in many White decks.

The top bar says the name of the card (Serra Angel) followed by it’s cost to play. This card costs 3 + Plains + Plains. All “mana” in the game is represented by lands, which have one of five colours (6 if you count colourless mana as a mana type, which it is in its own right!) You have Plains for white magic, Swamps for black magic, Islands for blue magic, Mountains for red magic and Forests for green magic. The above card costs 3 colourless (which can be -any- land or way to get mana) plus at least 2 white mana specifically.

Next is the picture and underneath it says “Creature – Angel”. The Creature explains that this is a creature card, so should be played like a creature (It is used to attack and/or defend for you). On the right of this bar is a symbol in a silver colour. There are different types of rarity: a black symbol is a common card, a silver symbol is uncommon. Gold is a rare card and a reddish platinum colour for “mythic rare” cards, which are hard to come by. Or you can spend good money on one!

Underneath that are some words. There might be nothing in here really, but in this case it says Flying and Vigilance which explains what extra rules this card has. Some cards like the one above have flavour text which is italicised at the bottom of this section. Finally it says 4/4. The first number is it’s attack value, the second is it’s life value. So it can deal 4 damage and it can absorb 4 damage before it is destroyed. If a creature reaches 0 life, it is destroyed unless something says otherwise.

Card types

Creature – This is a creature and sits on the field. It attacks and defends as you control it.
Trap – This is a trap card. Rare to find these around the place, but read what it tells you to do.
Instant – This card can be played whenever.
Sorcery – Can only be played on your Main Phase unless something says otherwise.
Artefact – This is an Artefact card, which is a special type of creature, land, or otherwise. Pay attention to what it says. It doesn’t suffer summoning sickness.
Planeswalker – Now we’re talking! These are very special cards which basically act like another player, but with “Loyalty” instead of life points. They sit on your side and can do the effects in the description box. If you see an effect with a +x next to it, the Planeswalker gains that many loyalty points. Ones with -x on it make that Planeswalker lose that many points.
Enchantment – Sits either on the battlefield to add effects, or on a creature to add effects to the creature.
Equipment – Is put on the battlefield then equipped on a creature to give it added effects.
Basic Land – Normal mana for the game.
Land – More advanced things happen with these lands.

I may have missed some, let me know in the comments below!

1v1: The basics

These represent the 5 colours of magic in Magic: the Gathering

These represent the 5 colours of magic in Magic: the Gathering

Your deck should have a minimum of 60 cards if you want to play in a tournament one day, but in a casual game, that doesn’t matter so much. You could have a 10 card deck if you really wanted to in casual. Shuffle your deck and draw 7 cards for yourself. You and your opponent will start your game with 20 life. You can choose who gets to go first in whatever way you’d like, though some of the more preferred routes are a coin toss or a dice roll to see who goes first.

The first person does not draw a card. Instead, he or she gets to start their turn. If they have a land card (either a “land” or a “basic land” card), they should play one of these first usually. Let us say you are starting and you have a “Red” deck. You play your mountain and you look through your hand. If there is something you can play for 1 mana or 1 red mana, then you can play that immediately. Here is an example of a card that is in my Goblin Deck which costs just one mana to play.

Goblin Arsonist

So he is a 1/1 that has an added effect when he dies. Because he has been summoned this turn, he suffers summoning sickness, so he cannot attack this turn. To play the Goblin Arsonist, we must “tap” (turn sideways) the one mountain played. We now have no more mana for this turn, so we declare it is the end of our turn.

The other person now begins their turn and they can draw a card. At the end of a turn, the hand limit is 7 cards and so if they have more in their hand, they must put one of their cards in their discard pile. The discard pile is used for destroyed creatures, or cards that have been used, such as an instant or sorcery card.

Turn structure

Joel Learns

You start with your Upkeep. This is where you draw your card (except for the very first turn where you do not draw a card. The opposing player on their first turn would draw a card, but the very first player of the first turn of the game does not pick up a card from their library).

Next you start your Main Phase. This is where you can play one land for the turn, creatures, artifacts, enchantments, sorcery cards and more. This is where you basically get things down on the field as your defence and offence. It’s turn 2 now and that 1/1 Goblin Arsonist is on the table. There is nothing on your opponents side, so you declare…

Your attack phase. Of course once you’ve declared who you’re attacking with what, your opponent decides if he wants to defend it or not. If your opponent has no creatures on the field and unless they have instant cards or a card with flash on it, they cannot defend. Our 1/1 Goblin Arsonist now does 1 damage to the opponents life points. The opponent is now on 19 from 20.

Your second Main Phase begins now. Same as the last Main Phase, but… after the attacks. You cannot declare another attack phase. Lastly… End your turn!

Keyword glossary

If this card was real, it'd have been in my deck a long time ago.

If this was real (name and all), it’d have been in my deck a long time ago.

This isn’t an exhaustive list of keywords, although it could be useful to some people out there who are just looking for a quick breakdown of keywords. I’ll likely keep adding to it wherever I can.

Indestructible – This keyword means the card it applies to cannot be destroyed.
Vigilance – You know that things tap? The card this applies to does not tap.
First Strike – Damage is calculated before the opposing creatures damage is calculated.
Double Strike – Same as above, but then it gets a second attack.
Lifelink – Gain life equal to the damage caused.
Trample – If you deal enough damage to destroy a creature, any excessive damage is sent off to another defending creature or if all defending creatures are eliminated, damage is dealt to the opposing player.Kicker – Pay an extra cost when bringing the creature onto the field and it’ll do some added effects.
Flash – Play this card as if it was an instant card.
Defender – This creature cannot attack. It can only defend.
Unblockable – Creatures cannot block this.
Landwalk – This creature is unblockable if the opponent has lands the same colour the creature can landwalk.
Shroud – This card cannot be the target of any spells or abilities.
Hexproof – Same as above, but does not deny its casters spells or abilities. Only the opponents are protected against.
Flying – This creature flies and can only be blocked by other flying creatures or creatures with reach.
Reach – This creature doesn’t fly, but it can block flying creatures.
Intimidate/Fear – Only creatures that share the same mana colour and artifact creatures can block this.
Deathtouch – If this card deals damage to any creature, that creature is destroyed regardless if it would have lived or not before.
Protection – Cannot be enchanted, equipped, blocked, or targeted by whatever it has protection against. For example, if it had protection against White, all white sources would be denied unless something stated otherwise.

There are many other keywords in Magic: the Gathering, can you find them all?!

Have you ever played Magic: the Gathering or a similar card game? Do you think I’ve missed anything out in my newbies guide to the game? Let me know what you thought in the comments below and as always, let’s keep the conversation going!


6 responses

  1. What a coincidence, I watched South Park’s Magic episode last night. As for the actual card game, it’s too deep for me. I like Hearthstone’s simplicity.

    Liked by 1 person

    November 21, 2014 at 1:52 pm

    • Whilst I love the simplicity of Hearthstone, it does have flaws as a card game! Mind you it’s free so that doesn’t matter! :P


      November 21, 2014 at 2:15 pm

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