How to Play Magic: The Gathering Part 2: Parts of a Turn

Welcome to part 2 of my How to Play Magic series! In part 1 I looked at card types. If you want to go back to read that post click the link below. In this part, I will walk you through the steps and parts of a turn. I will also cover how to end a game.

Set Up: Before you begin playing a game of MTG, each player shuffles their deck, referred to as the library. In competitive play, you and your opponent then cut each other’s deck. It’s not necessary in casual play, but it depends on who you play with. You will also need to decide who will go first, and this is normally done with a die roll or coin toss. Once that has been decided, you will both draw 7 cards. A good opening hand should have a mix of lands and spells. If you don’t like your opening hand, you may take a mulligan. There are several different ways to do a mulligan, but the idea is you can draw a new hand minus 1 card for each mulligan you take. I’ll go into more depth about mulligans in another post.

Untap, Upkeep, and Draw Steps: These are three different parts of a turn, but I will go ahead and cover them all here since they usually happen so fast. During the untap step, you untap all of the permanents you control that were tapped during your last turn. This mainly applies to creatures, lands, and maybe some artifacts. During the upkeep step, certain abilities and effects will come into play. If there is nothing that triggers during the upkeep, that’s okay; just proceed to the draw step and draw a card from your library. During the first turn of a game, the player who goes first does not draw unless there are more than 3 people in the game.

Pro Tip: If you’re having trouble remembering to untap your lands or an upkeep triggered ability, you can place a die or a coin on the top of your library so you have to move it before you draw reminding you that you have something else to do first.


1st Main Phase: During this phase you can play a land and cast spells. Lands and artifacts can tap as soon as they enter the battlefield. Creatures suffer from summoning sickness which means they cannot attack or tap unless they have haste, although some of their abilities may still be activated.

Combat: This phase is divided into multiple steps: declare attackers, declare blockers, damage, and clean up. The active player declares which creatures are attacking which opponent(s) or planeswalker(s) and taps those creatures. The defending player(s) then declares which creature or creatures will block the attacking creatures. An attacking creature may be blocked by more than 1 creature. Once blockers have been declared, if multiple creatures are blocking a creature, the attacker decides how to assign combat damage to the defending creatures. All damage happens at once, unless a creature has first strike, or double strike. If a creature takes damage equal to or greater than its toughness, it will die. Any creatures that were not blocked will deal combat damage to the defending player and any creatures that have trample will deal their leftover damage to the defending player.

Anaba Bodyguard
Fencing Ace
Aggressive Mammoth

2nd Main Phase: Like the first main phase, this is when you can play your land for the turn, cast spells or summon creatures. In competitive play, this is when most players will cast the majority of their spells for the turn.

End Step and Clean up: Once your turn is over, your ending step will serve as a second standby phase. Again, there may be certain effects that come into play at the end step. At the end of this phase, all damage dealt to surviving creatures will be healed.

Ending the Game: A player loses the game when their life total reaches 0. In most formats each player starts the game with 20 life. A player can also lose the game if they run out of cards to draw from their library. An uncommon way for a player to lose the game is by receiving 10 or more poison counters, which will be covered in my modern deck analysis of Infect. There are also cards that have the ability to end a game written into their effect.

Door to Nothingness

This concludes my parts of a turn post. If you have ever played any other trading card game, this pattern should look familiar, especially for Yu-Gi-Oh! players. If you have never played any other trading card game this may seem confusing at first, but with time you will find yourself moving through the parts of a turn as if they were second nature.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Very Good, very enlightening.

  2. Thank you for this explanation!

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