How to Use Each Card Type in Magic: The Gathering

Updated on June 8, 2019
Jeremy Gill profile image

Jeremy casts spells in between his careers as a chemical analyst and campus manager.

Card Types in Magic: The Gathering

Magic offers an engaging TCG with numerous playstyle to enjoy. From prearranging your deck in constructed format to testing your luck in drafts, everyone has their own way to game.

But with dozens of formats and thousands of cards, new players might find themselves initially overwhelmed—today we'll quickly summarize each type of card to help you learn how to play Magic: The Gathering!

Destructor Dragon mtg
Destructor Dragon mtg

How to Play Creatures in Magic

Creatures are the most common card type, with thousands of entries in each faction. Like other spells, you must pay their cost (in the card's upper-right); Destructor Dragon demands six mana, at least two of which must be green.

Unless a creature has haste, it has to wait a turn before attacking, which it does by tapping during your combat phase. At this point, it'll deal damage to your opponent (or one of their creatures if blocked) equal to its power, and it can withstand up to its toughness as damage before dying. In Destructor's case, he has 4/4 stats, so he hits for four and takes as much to kill. Note that damage fades at the end of a turn and that only untapped creatures can block attackers.

So, creatures are useful for both their combat prowess (the easiest way to inflict damage) and unique effects; in Destructor's case, he destroys any non-creature permanent when he dies. Green and white particularly emphasize big creatures, so start there when looking for a martial victory.

Swamp mtg
Swamp mtg

How to Play Lands in Magic

Lands work differently than most Magic cards—they don't require mana, but you can only play one from your hand each turn. Most lands enter untapped and ready to use; unlike creatures, they can activate immediately, generally tapping for a single mana.

Thus, as you gradually play lands, your overall mana (and ability to cast bigger spells) increases. Some lands offer additional abilities, and typical decks have a bit over 1/3 of their cards as lands. There's also a "basic" land type for each faction; Forests for green, Plains for white, Mountains for red, Islands for blue, and Wastes for colorless.

Sol Ring mtg
Sol Ring mtg

How to Play Artifacts in Magic

Artifacts provide a variety of abilities once cast; some are passive effects, others (like the above Sol Ring) tap for their traits. Unlike creatures, artifacts can tap immediately even without haste; many provide additional mana to supplement your lands.

Artifacts also work well in multi-color decks because most are colorless, meaning they accept any mana types. You'll also find artifact-creature blends (which function like creatures but qualify for artifact supports or removals), and unique artifact equipment spells, which attach to and boost creatures. If you enjoy artifacts, consider the blue faction, which offers many supplementary spells.

Land Tax mtg
Land Tax mtg

How to Play Enchantments in Magic

Enchantments function similarly to artifacts, offering various passive abilities. However, they rarely need to tap, and most require specific colors, but they can entirely change the nature of the game with their unique traits. For instance, the above Land Tax adds three basic lands to your hand during upkeeps where an opponent controls more lands than you.

Just like artifacts, you'll encounter some enchantment/creatures duos as well as creature-boosting aura cards. Like equipments, these offer various buffs to creatures, and they tend to be cheaper (only needing a base cost without an attachment fee), but they're not reusable, so if the enchanted unit dies, they go with it.

Temporal Manipulation mtg
Temporal Manipulation mtg

How to Play Sorceries in Magic

Unlike our previous card types, sorceries aren't permanents—they never enter the field, instead activating one-off effects before immediately heading to the graveyard. But what they lack in longevity, they compensate for with power, offering insane benefits with immediate rewards.

Like most card types, you can only cast a sorcery during either of your turn's main phases. They're particularly favored by the blue and red factions, as seen in the above extra turn-providing Temporal Manipulation.

Lightning Bolt mtg
Lightning Bolt mtg

How to Play Instants in Magic

Instants are very similar to sorceries, applying immediate-use effects before entering your graveyard. However, they differ in timing—you can cast them on any phase, even during your opponent's turn!

Comparatively, sorceries tend to be slightly stronger, but instants catch foes off-guard and eliminate threats before they have a chance to activate. Instants are favored by red and blue, but you'll find worthy options across all factions.

Liliana, the Last Hope mtg
Liliana, the Last Hope mtg

How to Play Planeswalkers in Magic

Planeswalkers are unique spells that enter the field with an amount of loyalty counters shown in the card's bottom-right (three in Liliana's case). Once per turn, including the turn they arrive, you can use one of a planeswalker's effects by adding or subtracting the listed number of loyalty.

Liliana here could use +1 to give a creature -2/-1 until your next turn, -2 to send two cards from your deck to your graveyard and return a creature from your graveyard to your hand, or -7 to give an emblem that grants zombie tokens during your end step.

For subtraction effects, you need at least as much loyalty as listed, so you can't use -7 until you have at least seven loyalty, but these offer brutal abilities that can cement your win. However, your opponents can direct their attackers at planeswalkers instead of you (and you can block with creatures as normal); each damage point they suffer reduces their loyalty by one (heading to the graveyard when it reaches zero).

Omnath, Locus of Mana mtg
Omnath, Locus of Mana mtg

The Legend Rule in Magic

Several permanent cards of all types have the "legendary" addition. These spells tend to be especially strong, but you can only control one at once; you sacrifice down to one if you ever possess duplicates. So be careful not to saturate your deck with too many copies of the same legendary, but you're welcome to field different legendaries simultaneously.

Note that all planeswalkers are legendary (as of this writing), and there are even legendary sorceries available, which simply require you to control a legendary permanent before you can cast them.

Which card type do you prefer?

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Other Card Types in Magic

Today we covered the standard card types you'll encounter in Magic, but you'll occasionally see outliers, like the host cards from the semi-official Unstable set. And while we've reviewed the basics, there are still several specific abilities on creatures to learn (like flying, trample, and lifelink).

Keep at it, and you'll slowly but surely master the cards and how they interact. But for now, as we eagerly await Wizards of the Coast's next Magic spell type, vote for your favorite and I'll see you at our next MTG countdown!

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    © 2019 Jeremy Gill

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