What Is Magic The Gathering?

This article discusses the basics of Magic: The Gathering.

Complex card games like poker and blackjack rely on skill, chance and a thorough knowledge of the 52 cards that comprise the traditional deck of playing cards. Imagine a game that evolved over time, adding new and unusual cards or rules every few months and you have the basic idea of how Magic the Gathering (M:TG) has been able to attract so many enthusiasts over the years.

This article will discuss the basics of Magic: The Gathering. Because the game is so dynamic and apt to change, this article will not discuss specific decks or card combinations, but instead talk about game play and general tactics. Magic is a card game requiring concentration, timing and strategy. The basic point of the game is to beat your opponent down from 20 life points, while staying alive yourself. You do this by summoning creatures and casting spells.

There are six colors (or suits) in Magic, representing different elemental planes. White cards are plains cards; black cards are swamps; red cards are mountain cards; blue cards are water cards; green cards are forest cards; and gray (colorless) cards are artifact cards. Each of the primary colors - white, red, blue and green - have summons, sorcery and instant or interrupt spells.

Each color has its lands from which it can draw mana or power points to cast spells. You must expend mana to cast spells. A card's casting cost is represented in the upper right hand corner of a card, which has a number and usually specific mana symbol. This means you need to tap (x) colorless mana - mana of any color - and however many specific mana symbols are shown. Once you have tapped a land, it loses its mana until your next turn.

For example, if your card shows a number 2 in a gray circle and a forest symbol you must tap one forest land and come up with two mana points from any other source to cast that spell. The other mana sources may be forest cards or whatever lands or mana-producing artifacts you have in play that are not tapped out.

Summons cards call creatures or walls into play. A creature usually cannot attack or use a special power on the turn it was summoned. Creature cards are marked with two numbers in their lower right hand corner. The one on the left is the creature's power - the amount of damage it does when it attacks - the number on the right is its toughness, or the amount of damage it can sustain before it dies.

Enchantment cards can be used in three ways. You may enchant a creature, either cursing it or giving it a special ability; you can enchant yourself, giving all your creatures a bonus, for example; or you can enchant the world, which changes the game environment.

Sorcery cards usually go off during the turn they were cast and do not remain. Once they are used, they go to your graveyard, where other out-of-play cards are stacked. Sorceries can target players, creatures or even the entire world, depending on the card. Instant and interrupt cards, like sorceries, usually do not remain after the turn they were cast, but unlike sorceries these cards can be played at anytime, whether it's your turn or not.

The game environment includes your library (the stack of cards you're drawing from), your hand of seven cards, the cards that are in play such as creatures, enchantments or artifacts, your graveyard where "out of play" cards go, and special cards which must be removed from the game.

To begin the game usually players cut to a card, and the card that cost the most mana to determine who will begin the game. If there are more than two players the game progresses clockwise from the players who cut to the highest casting cost card. The primary phases of a game are the beginning phase, the main phase, the combat phase, a second main phase, and the end phase.

During the beginning phase the player whose turn it is untaps his or her lands, artifacts and creatures, pays any upkeep costs the cards in play require, and draws a card. During his or her main phase, the player may cast spells or play a land. The player may declare an attack during the combat phase.

The players determines which creatures he or she wishes to attack with and the defending player assigns blockers or decides to take damage equal to the creatures power. The defending player decides which creates blocks which attackers, and damage is resolved by determining which characters have power greater or equal to the creatures they're matched against. Damage to players is also resolved at the end of the combat phase.

Either player may cast interrupt or instant spells at any time, including during the combat phase. During the second main phase, the player may place a land if he or she hasn't done it during the first main phase, and cast spells.

The end phase is often referred to as the clean-up phase. During this phase you will discard if you have more than seven cards and remove creatures from play that were mortally wounded.

The game progresses until there's a clear winner.

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