A Beginner’s Guide to Magic: the Gathering Part I

Ryan Normandin
June 16, 2017

My name is Charlie, and I’ve been on a hot streak recently playing Magic: the Gathering. I’ve won two FNM’s this month along with Top 8’ing a PPQTPQ (if you love acronyms, you’ll love Magic!) It might be hard to believe, but I’ve reached this high, near-pro level of success after only a year, and after reading this article, you’ll be well on your way to competing at the highest levels like me – with some practice, of course. And with enough tournament wins under you’re belt, you might even find that, for whatever reason, people assume your a good enough writer to get paid to write articles for money (or even better, store credit)!



First, let’s talk fundamentals. There are two major card types in Magic: creatures and lands. There are technically a couple others, but you won’t often see them in large numbers in winning decklists. You play one land each turn, though you could explore breaking this rule; if you’re confident, you’ll sometimes get away with it! All part of the game. You use lands to play your creatures. Creatures attack your opponent’s life total and block to protect your own. Your life is the most important thing in a game of Magic; after all, once you start playing, you probably won’t have one outside the game, so you need to protect those 20 points!

This guy is probably Tireless from all of the RED BULL; caffeine= WINS

Let’s look at an example. You’re both at 20 life and your opponent is attacking with a 2/1. You have a Tireless Tracker, which is a 3/2. What do you do? Well, if you don’t block, you will go to 18, which means you’re losing. In this scenario, it is clearly correct to block; you even get to kill your opponent’s creature! That’s about all there is to combat. Let’s move on to turn structure!

First, you untap your lands and draw a card. You should then play your land immediately so you don’t forget. But you have to be careful about where on the table you put it; lands should ALWAYS be placed behind creatures. The one time I saw someone put lands in front of their creatures, they were shouted at, banned from the store, then shot in a side alley. (We’ll come back to this enthusiasm for triggers that is systemic among Magic players.) Even worse, they had their Magic cards stolen from them…

 After you play your land, you get to attack your opponent. However, you should be very careful about how you do this. Trying to get to the spot where you can attack is where the most mind games come in. It used to be that saying, “combat” would force you to skip part of the combat step called “beginning of combat.” In fact, you could even say, “I’d like to move to the beginning of combat,” and what that actually did was force you to skip the beginning of combat! Advanced rules like this are great for “getting” your opponent, especially if they don’t speak English! Can you imagine if you learned Spanish and found out that telling your opponent you wanted to block actually meant that you declared no blocks? What an edge you could gain! Unfortunately, they changed this rule so that the words you say no longer mean their opposites. If you play this game for long enough, you’ll find that Wizards is always dumbing things down like this.

(Be sure to bookmark this section on Fundamentals; Magic players love articles about fundamentals, so this is likely to join the must-read material for any new player.)



When playing Magic, there’s a lot of unique lingo that’s important to understand:

Trigger – Players often mutter this to themselves when they play creatures. This is because Magic players view their creatures as their weapons, and are trying to intimidate you by threatening to “pull the trigger,” so to speak. While it doesn’t usually work, you don’t want to leave any percentage points on the table - I’d recommend getting in the habit.

Crack – You’ll often hear opponents offer you drugs under their breath, disguising their illicit dealings by slipping it in between game actions. For example, a player might say, “Crack?” and look at you questioningly, while holding up a card. Just stare into their eyes, never blinking. Eventually, they’ll take a game action, like sacrifice an Evolving Wilds to get a basic land from their deck. Once they do this, the drug deal is off, and you should be safe. (Note: Pulling out money in response is heavily frowned upon, especially in a setting where the drug dealer sitting across from you is thirteen. Let’s just say the DCI number I’m using today is not the same as a year ago.)

On your Upkeep – Here’s a protip: saying this once or twice a match will majorly scare your opponent. Be sure to pause after saying it and look at your hand thoughtfully. This is usually done right before the opponent draws a card, but you can really do it whenever, especially if you really want to freak them out!

Sure – This is actually one of the nicest things about Magic: the supportive community. Whenever you go to a tournament, you’ll hear echoes of “…sure… sure… sure…” all around you. Murmurs of approval are nearly nonstop during games, as players seek to affirm each other, bolstering self-esteem and confidence.

Tilt – If someone is tilted, it means they’re so upset that they’re likely to tilt the table they’re sitting at to such a degree that the table will rotate 180°. This is sometimes referred to as “flipping the table.

Card Types

As I mentioned, the major ones are creatures and lands, but you’re likely to see others on occasion, so it’s good to brush up on them here!

Creatures – They attack, block, and will typically do something else as well when they enter the battlefield or after they sit around for a bit.

Lands – Use these to play your creatures.

Some lands are even creatures!! These ones are great, who cares if they come into play tapped!!


Sorceries – Basically creatures that you have to sacrifice the moment they enter the battlefield. Bad.

Instants – Similar to creatures with flash, except that you have to sacrifice them the moment they enter the battlefield. Better than sorceries, worse than creatures with flash.

Artifacts – Think of these as creatures that can’t attack or block. You can usually pay even more mana to make them do something. Just get a creature that does it.

Enchantment – These are similar to artifacts in that they are also creatures that can’t attack or block, but they usually do something as long as they exist, instead of having to repeatedly pay for their effect like you would with artifacts. Once again, why bother when you can have enchantments that attack?

Planeswalker – Not only are these just creatures that can’t attack or block and only do one thing a turn, but your opponent can even attack them! If you can protect a planeswalker, it can be pretty strong, but be careful!

Tribal – This is a card type that makes a card called “Tarmogoyf” bigger.


There are five colors in Magic. Each color has specific things that it believes and particular mechanics it has access to. The distribution of these things is called the “Color Pie,” and it’s evolved over the years. We’ll be talking about it mostly in terms of cards that you, as a new player, will be seeing.

White – This color believes that the best way to defeat an opponent is to play a Gideon. Gideon is a type of white card that will usually win the game if played on curve. People generally put white into their decks to gain access to these powerful Gideon cards. I wish there was more to it, but if you can tap two Plains and two other lands, you’re set. Often good when paired with Green.

Blue – This color is smart, so it likes to surprise people by being completely busted or absolutely terrible. According to the experts on Reddit (always check it out for spot-on card evaluation), blue can sometimes exist in what physicists call quantum superposition; this means that in formats like Modern, the color is unplayable trash while simultaneously putting up Top 8’s. In Standard, blue is often a splash used so that Green can gain access to a couple of multicolored cards.

Black – This is the color of death and killing, which means that Green decks often splash it to gain access to removal spells. It also has access to some great Green creatures such as Winding Constrictor and Grim Flayer in Standard, along with Green spells like Abrupt Decay and Maelstrom Pulse in Modern.

Red – This color is pretty cool. It’s philosophy is to light stuff on fire, and it’s power set is EVERYTHING, just really bad with a twist! White gets the unbeatable four-drop with three abilities that is Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, but that’s too easy; Red likes working for its wins! That’s why Red gets the strong, but very beatable four-drop that is Chandra, Torch of Being Worse than Gideon. WOTC even tacked on an extra ability, and it still barely saw play. Blue can make copies and steal creatures permanently, so of course Red can as well. But Red does it just until end of turn because it likes the challenge! Blue can also counter spells and take extra turns, which red also currently has access to in the form of Glorious End. You should note, however, the slight downside of losing the game the turn after you resolve it. But that’s cool, cuz RED! Finally, Black straight-up kills creatures, and red can (usually) do that too (more expensively)… as long as the creature has three toughness…

So what’s Red’s mechanical identity, you ask? No one really knows! But hopefully the cool artwork and evocative card names distract you from the lack of substance!


Fun activity: Build your own Red card name by choosing 1-3 words from each column!

Emotionally Evocative Adverb/Adjective that is a synonym for “fiery” or “angry”

Emotionally Evocative Noun that is a synonym for “fire” or “anger,” though occasionally a weapon






























Green – Green is the color of card advantage. If you play Green, you’ll always have more cards in your hand than your opponent! However, the one downside that Green’s card advantage has is that it’s tied to its creatures and lands. For example, Green can’t get a card that says, “Draw two cards,” but it can get a creature that says, “As long as I’m not dead, you can draw extra cards every single turn!”

You might think that it’s unfortunate that Green’s card advantage is tied to its creatures (what if they have three toughness and Red casts Chandra’s Psychotic Pyro Fury Blast on them?!), but it’s actually great because Green has the best creatures! Not only will its creatures let you draw cards all the friggin’ time, but while you do, they’ll get bigger, gain you life, provide card selection, and otherwise be awesome!

Kermit the Frog once said, “It’s not easy being green.” Donald Trump said, “We’re going to win so much, you’re going to be so sick and tired of winning.” What’s the connection between these two colorful characters? It turns out, they’re both right: it’s not easy being green because you get so sick and tired of just winning. Every. Single. Time. (Trump = Kermit the Frog?!?!#logic  #illuminati #orangeisthenewgreen)

  1. Colorless – To be fair, a wise neckbearded man on massive amounts of caffeine once screamed into my face that “colorless is not a color,” each fleck of his spittle driving home his point just a little harder. However, it’s searchable in Gatherer under “color,” so I’m going with it.

Always borrow these from friends; they are definitely going to get banned

Beware playing with colorless cards! They are absurdly powerful, making the rest of the non-green colors look pathetic. The temptation to beat your opponent in the face with a colorless 2 mana 3/3 flyer that provides card selection while building to cast your colorless 13/13 flying trampling protected mindslaving monster off your colorless 4 mana cheaty-box is certainly strong. Win a couple games. Have some fun. Then sell out of them, for it is the fate of all such cards to be banned. When you’ve finished, just go and play Green.

Well folks, as a college dropout pursuing MTG professionally, I’ve got to squeeze every ounce of change from my per-article-income, so I’m going to split this into a two-parter! Tune in next time to learn about Magic’s formats, tournament types & levels, and which MTG accessories you need to take your game to the next level! (Hint: they totally include a box to protect all the boxes you use to protect the playmat you use to store your sleeve-protected cards. Ultimate Guard commercials are my favorite.)