What Do I Need to Start Playing Magic: The Gathering?

Updated on October 16, 2019
CassandraCae profile image

Scientist, Advocate, Organizer, Dreamer, Gamer, and Wearer of Graphic T's.

Magic: The Gathering, also known simply as just "Magic," is a card game that can be played with two or more players. It is different than games that that most people play with the cards found in the "junk" drawer. This is because players stack their own decks. Yep, you read that right, the player gets to choose how many cards and what cards are in the deck they play with. Each player has their own deck that they use during gameplay.

The game was created by Richard Garfield and first published in 1993, with new cards being added to the game multiple times per year. It is not just a passing fad, as millions of people still play the game and many local comic book shops hold tournaments for local players on a regular basis.

As of September 2019, there were approximately 24,158 Magic cards to choose from.

To really understand this game, you have to put yourself into character. You are a planeswalker. This is a powerful wizard who's sole goal is to destroy and defeat other planeswalkers.

At the beginning of the game, everyone has 20 life points, and the goal is to get your opponent's life total to zero before your own life runs out. The place where you play your cards is known as the battlefield. You have creatures to fight your battles (some of them include goblins and vampires), equipment to make your creatures stronger, along with spells and instants to cast that will help in weakening your target.

This is just a small selection of choices that you can make. The combinations are literally endless. That is why Magic: The Gathering is commonly described as chess, but with cards.

People playing Magic the Gathering
People playing Magic the Gathering | Source

The Cards

As I mentioned before, this is a card game, and pretty much all you need to play this game are the cards (though it is helpful to have a few other trappings, such as 20-sided dice to use as life counters).

Deck-Building Kits Are a Great Place to Start

This hobby can become expensive because of all the options available to you as a player, so if you are starting out, the best way to learn to play without spending a lot of money is to buy a deck builder's tool kit. These kits include all of the cards to get you started along with a nifty reusable box for storing those cards and keeping them safe.

This is the best way to ensure you will have all the cards needed to build a full 60+ card deck in a variety of colors. If you really enjoy playing, there are upgrades you can purchase called booster packs; they include extra cards to enhance your playing experience.

Core Set 2015 Deck Builder's Toolkit
Core Set 2015 Deck Builder's Toolkit
A deck-building kit is all you need to start playing this game. As you learn more, there are thousands of other card options out there to choose from to build more complex decks. You can also go for a kit featuring the latest release of cards.

Magic: The Gathering Card Values

Card Name
Approximate Value
Garruk, Apex Predator
Nissa, Worldwaker
Chandra, Pyromaster
Jace, the Living Guildpact
Ajani Steadfast
Sliver Hivelord
Chord of Calling
Liliana Vess
Soul of New Phyrexia
Battlefield Forge
The cards listed in this table are from the Magic 2015 Core Set. These values are current as of October 2019, but they will continue to increase and decrease over time.

Protecting Your Investment

In the table above, you will see how Magic card prices vary. Every time cards are purchased from a given series, there is a chance you will find a highly valued card. The potential value of these trading cards means it is really important to provide your collection the proper protection.

No one expects you to purchase these cards and not play with them. In my eyes, that is completely absurd. Unless you are purchasing strictly to resell, there is a good chance you are going to play with your cards. If the proper precautions are taken from the beginning, you can play with your cards and possibly sell them in the future and still gain a high value for them.

There are four things I suggest getting if you want to keep your cards in the best shape possible.

Use a binder to keep the cards you are not playing with safe.
Use a binder to keep the cards you are not playing with safe. | Source

1. Binder With Card Pages

This is where you will store all your rare and mythic rare cards. These cards are not printed in high quantities and have a great likelihood of gaining value. They are also, sometimes, your most powerful cards.

2. Cardboard Card Box

This is a place to keep all of your common and uncommon cards. It is important to keep all of your cards in great shape. There are other boxes out there that serve this purpose that are made of sturdier materials (see below). I have found, though, that if they are in a safe place away from moisture, these cardboard boxes with lids do just fine for storage. These boxes come in a variety of sizes.

This deck box is solid and is the perfect solution for storing a deck of Magic: The Gathering Cards.
This deck box is solid and is the perfect solution for storing a deck of Magic: The Gathering Cards. | Source

3. Sturdy Deck Box

After you create a deck, it is nice to be able to make it portable. The only way to safely do this is with a sturdy deck box. This will keep your cards from being bent or smashed in transportation. Never, and I repeat never, put a rubber band around magic cards. It will ruin them in the long term. Make sure your box is large enough to hold your cards while they are in protective sleeves

Magic: The Gathering Cards tucked safely in some sleeves that display the poison counter symbol.
Magic: The Gathering Cards tucked safely in some sleeves that display the poison counter symbol. | Source

4. Card Sleeves for Game Play

A deck can have your valuable cards in it if you properly protect them. Shuffling cards that are not protected can cause bending and wear that will devalue a card. The fewer scuffs and scratches a card has, the more valuable it can become. To keep your cards in the best shape, never play the game without putting your cards in sleeves.

Magic the Gathering cards aren't just for playing—they can be great room décor too.  I could see something like this hanging in my living room one day.
Magic the Gathering cards aren't just for playing—they can be great room décor too. I could see something like this hanging in my living room one day. | Source

Have you ever played Magic: The Gathering?

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Permanents and Non-Permanents

  • Permanents: These are cards that stay on the battlefield for multiple turns. Some examples include creatures, equipment, and enchantments.
  • Non-Permanents: These are cards that are played once and then placed into the graveyard. Sorcery cards and instant cards are both great examples.

Main Card Types

Card Type
Permanent or Not Permanent
Used to cast your other cards such as creatures and instants. You can play one of these at no cost per turn.
An ally with ridiculous attributes listed on the card
Used as a minion to attack your opponent, can also block your opponents attack.
Spell that can be cast at any point during the game.
Spell that can be cast during your turn unless otherwise stated.
Differ by card but some can attach to the creatures, they are known as auras.
Colorless set of cards that contain different creatures and equipment, many have special abilities.
Basic explanations for the primary card types

The Battlefield Explained

Notes on Land/Mana

Almost every card you cast during your game is going to require mana to cast. Mana is paid with your land cards by tapping them during your main phase. The mana cost is listed in the top right-hand corner of the card. It typically contains a number in a colorless circle and a series of symbols.

Each symbol represents one mana for the cost of casting that card, and it has to be the same color and symbol listed on the card. The number in the colorless circle represents the cost of that card that can be filled with any color.

To calculate the total cost of the card, both numbers have to be added together. For example, 2 green forest symbols and a colorless circle with number 3 in it is going to cost 5 total mana, of which two have to be green.

How to Play Magic: The Gathering

The first thing that has to happen is that all the players have to determine who will take a turn first. The easiest way to do this is with a six-sided dice. Whoever rolls highest gets to decide if they want to take a turn first or pass that first turn onto the other player. After this is determined, decks are then shuffled and placed in the proper spot. It is also friendly to let the other player cut your deck if they choose.

After the decks are shuffled, each player draws seven cards. All players start with 20 life, and the first to reach 0 loses.

The player that takes their turn first does not have an option of drawing a card that turns. Each turn has multiple phases. They start that first turn on the Main Phase which is when you may play a land card at no cost. Also, if you have enough land/mana available, you may cast any spells. This is the end of the first turn.

The opponent then takes their first turn. They start by drawing a card. They then also play the main phase by playing a land if they can and casting any spells if they are able to. After these first two turns, play becomes the same for each player.

  1. Untap Phase: Untap any tapped mana that was used to cast spells.
  2. Draw Phase: Draw a card
  3. Main Phase: This is where you play a land card and cast any spells that may be available to you.
  4. Combat: Creatures on the battlefield have a power/toughness number on their lower right corner. The power is your attack and the toughness is your defense. To destroy a creature, your attack must be higher than their defense. This works both ways so be careful when attacking. If your opponent has no creatures for defense, your attack will apply to their life count.
  5. Main Phase Repeat: If you missed a land spell in your first main phase you can play it here, this phase also gives you a chance to cast another spell if you have the mana/land available to do so.

Gameplay occurs in this manner until your opponent's life reaches zero. Cards also carry special rules and features that add to the standard rules. Read them carefully, as most are very easy to understand without any outside rulebooks.

When playing casually, usually a group consensus is enough to settle any disputes. I say usually because some disputes have to be looked up in the Wizards of the Coast Official Guides, Cards are added often and sometimes to really be able to interpret how certain cards work together the core rules must be consulted. That is part of why this game never becomes boring. You are always learning something new as new cards and tactics are developed and released.

Land examples from the different card color types.
Land examples from the different card color types. | Source

What Do the Colors Mean?

Along with the divisions listed above, cards are also sorted by color. Each color has its own tactics and its own style of gameplay.

White Cards

The white cards stand for justice. They fight against evil and consist of many supernatural beings like angels that can fly. They carry the power of righteousness. A deck made out of white cards will almost always contain cards with the healing attribute. There are so many cards that carry this ability in this color scheme.

But don't let it fool you; not only is it the judge but it is also the execution squad. White, at one time a passive color, has become growing with more rage and fury over the advancement of the series.

Blue Cards

Blue cards are all about wisdom. In this color scheme, a lot of water will be observed. Water is fluid and can change flow when obstacles are presented and so can a well put together Magic deck featuring blue cards. Attacking your player takes time with a blue deck. This is why I recommend beginners to stay away from blue until they have mastered the game a little.

The best way to play this deck is to stack it with different combinations that will deliver maximum damage and protection. This can be done with this deck better than other colors. Blue decks typically feature cards that let you draw more cards. Caution should always be taken with this style of gameplay, though, because if you run out of cards before your opponent, you lose.

Black Cards

Are you a master of the dark arts? Are you willing to sacrifice it all to win everything? Then a deck of black cards is going to be a blast for you to play. Black cards deal in death. Decks with these cards send characters to the graveyard and then raise them just as fast. Look out because a player playing black with the right cards can raise creatures from your graveyard and take control of them. Many of the most recent tournament decks have been made with black cards.

Red Cards

Red is the color of chaos. Because of this, I always recommend a red deck for beginners. While there are many strategies one can take with a red deck, they are not necessary for a successful game. These cards do a lot of direct damage with instants. There are also a lot of cards that don't have a very high casting cost. This means getting on your cards on the battlefield faster which allows you to do damage right away. This is good to counterattack someone who's battlefield may take longer to develop.

Green Cards

The last color in Magic the Gathering is green. Green cards represent nature. There are lots of creatures in the forest and there are also lots of creatures in a green deck of varying strengths. The tactics of a green deck are based on the predator-prey relationship. If you aren't one, you are the other. Creatures in this deck are merciless and become rather large throughout the gameplay as more mana becomes available. This deck is merciless and crushing.

So What Do You Think?

Which color seems the most fun to play?

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Learn How to Play From the Pros

© 2014 Elizabeth Lynn Westbay


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    • profile image

      nafisa firdous 

      3 years ago


    • handymanbill profile image


      5 years ago from Greensburg Pennsylvania

      Sounds interesting to play. But it would take a while to figure out. Great hub.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Interesting. I also like how the cards look as a room décor!

    • CassandraCae profile imageAUTHOR

      Elizabeth Lynn Westbay 

      5 years ago from United States

      You can play as many of them as you like on one creature unless the card itself specifies different. Enchantments are lost when a creature moves to the graveyard.

    • profile image

      Kyle Nowak 

      5 years ago

      Was very Informative. Thank you. Quick Question though. How many Enchant Creatures, or auras, can be cast on one creature??

    • KnowWhatImean profile image


      5 years ago

      Great information for someone who is wanting to start playing! We have just started recently going to game night at the local comic store, and they have Magic Tournaments. Maybe I will go and watch a few before playing, Thanks!

    • CassandraCae profile imageAUTHOR

      Elizabeth Lynn Westbay 

      5 years ago from United States

      There is an online version of the game that I play when I don't have other people to play with in person. It is cheaper then buying a whole new set of cards. I spend as much time playing that version as I do the physical version with cards.

    • jennabee25 profile image

      Jenn Dixon 

      5 years ago from PA

      This is such a great game. I need to get back into playing it!

    • SimilarSam profile image

      Samuel Franklin 

      5 years ago

      Never been able to get into Magic The Gathering but I've got plenty of friends that are hooked on it. You've definitely done it justice on this Hub and I understand a little bit more about what they are talking about now!

    • Billrrrr profile image

      Bill Russo 

      5 years ago from Cape Cod

      Very fine job on this Cass (if I may be familiar). I don't play, but my son - a career army man, with tours in Afghanistan and Iraq - was an ardent gamer for may years. He started out with D & D when most people thought that those letters only stood for Dunkin' Donuts.

      Welcome to Hubpages. I had never heard of the Squidoo site and just found out about it when I read somebody's hub saying something about a 'merger'.

    • Elsie Hagley profile image

      Elsie Hagley 

      5 years ago from New Zealand

      This game looks very interesting. You sure know it well, I have never heard of it.

    • Merrci profile image

      Merry Citarella 

      5 years ago from Oregon's Southern Coast

      Wow, you must have this game mastered! Interesting how much there is to it. I think it looks great.


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