How to Play Magic: The Gathering Part 1: Cards

Magic: The Gathering, sometimes referred to as Magic or MTG, is one of the oldest trading card games in existence today. The game was introduced in the early 90s and paved the way for other popular card games like the Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh! trading card games. In this series I will teach you how to play Magic: The Gathering. I will cover the basics of the game starting with the cards, phases of a turn, and color philosophy. Then I will get into more in-depth aspects as the series goes on. In this post I will go over the parts of a card and different card types.

The first thing to look at are the parts of a card in MTG. At the top left is the card name “Raging Goblin.” On the top right is a symbol that represents the color of mana that this card requires in order to be played. This card only requires a single red mana. Other cards may require multiple mana of the same or different color. If there is a number with gray background, it means that the card requires that much mana without regard to color. If there was a gray 2 next to the red mana symbol on this card, you would have to pay 2 mana of any color plus a red mana.

The art is in the middle of the card. Let me take a moment to say that most of the artwork used in MTG is amazing.

Underneath that is a small box similar to the box that contains the card name and its casting cost. This box contains the card type. The type of a card dictates how and when it can be played. We  can see that this card is a creature, more specifically a Goblin Berserker. In the far right of this box is the symbol for the set or product this card came in. This has no effect on the gameplay, but can be important for collectors. The color of this symbol also designates the cards rarity. Black and white are common, silver is uncommon, gold is rare, and orange is mythic rare.

The next portion of the card contains the cards abilities and effects. Sometimes those abilities are accompanied by a reminder text in ( ) which explains the ability. Some cards also have a flavor text printed in italics.

Since this is a creature, there are two numbers at the bottom right. The first number represents a creatures power. Power is how much damage this card can deal. The second number represents the creatures toughness. Toughness is how much damage this card can take before it dies. When you play a creature, that creature will stay on the battlefield until it is killed. The card artist’s name is on the bottom left along with a number. Again, this has no effect on gameplay, but may be important for collectors.

Raging Goblin

Creatures are just one of the many card types that exist in MTG. You can use your creatures to attack your opponent or defend against your opponent’s attacks. Other card types include instant and sorcery. The main difference between these two cards is that instants can be played at any time, even during your opponent’s turn; in fact, that would be the best time to play the card on the left.

Just like the creature card, there is a name, casting cost, card type, effect and all of the information that a collector would be interested in.

Unlike creatures, instant and sorcery cards are only temporary. After they are played, or cast, you move them to into your discard pile (known as your graveyard).

Enchantments are another type of card. Like creatures, these cards will stay in play until they are destroyed. There are two types of enchantments, auras and non-auras. Aura enchantments will have the aura sub-type and they are used to enchant a creature, player, or other type of card. If the card an aura is enchanting is destroyed, the aura is also destroyed. Aura enchantments have to be attached to something that is a legal target for them. The enchantment on the right is an aura and we can see that the effect says it needs to be attached to a creature. Non-aura enchantments do not need to be attached to anything.

Knight's Pledge

Artifacts are similar to enchantments. Normally, artifacts don’t require any certain color of mana so they fit well into most decks. There are three sub-types of artifacts: creature, vehicle, and equipment. There are also artifacts that do not fall into any of these categories that will be discussed later. Artifact creatures function just like any other creature. Vehicles require a creature or a few creatures to pilot them, but they function just like a creature once their crew cost has been paid. Equipment on the other hand is different. There is an equip cost at the bottom of the card that is what it costs for a creature to pick up that artifact. Unlike an aura, if the creature using the equipment were to die, the equipment stays behind.

Aesthir Glider
Irontread Crusher

One of the most important card types is land. Like creatures, enchantments, and artifacts, lands are permanent, meaning they stay on the battlefield. In a game of Magic, you can only play one land per turn. Lands are important because they produce mana. Mana lets you play your other cards. There are 5 different colors of mana, each coming from different lands and each having its own philosophies and play styles. White mana comes from Plains. Blue mana comes from Islands. Black mana comes from Swamps. Red mana comes from Mountains. Green mana comes from Forests. Plains, Islands, Swamps, Mountains, and Forests are basic lands. There are also non-basic lands which can produce multiple colors of mana or colorless mana. To add mana to your mana pool from a land, you turn it sideways. This is called tapping.

Basic Plains
Basic Island
Basic Swamp
Basic Mountain
Basic Forest

The last type of card I will talk about is a planeswalker. In the lore, planeswalkers are among the most powerful beings in the multiverse. They get their name for their ability to walk between planes of existence. When you play a game of MTG, you become a planeswalker.

Having a planeswalker card is like having an ally. The only thing you can do is activate one of their abilities once per turn. The number on the bottom right is their loyalty. Activating one of their abilities requires adding or taking away loyalty counters. Like players, they can be attacked and targeted. If their loyalty reaches zero, they go into the graveyard. If a planeswalker is attacked it will not deal damage to the attacking creature, but the creature will be able to reduce the planeswalker’s loyalty by an amount equal to the damage it deals.

Vivian Reid

This concludes part one in my How to Play Magic: The Gathering series. There are many more posts to come, so be on the look out for those. If you have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comments section. A wise man one said, “The only stupid questions are those that are not asked.” One of the best ways to learn how to play Magic: The Gathering is sitting down with some friends and playing a few games. It may be confusing at first, but that’s why I’m here making this series. It’s a lot to take in and it might feel overwhelming at times, but with practice, you’ll get the hang of it. I would also recommend using an electronic version of the game, either Magic The Gathering Online or Magic The Gathering Arena, to learn how to play Magic: The Gathering. This way, if none of your friends play magic, you can connect to someone around the world who does and play anytime.

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