Magic: The Gathering (MTG) for Dummies

Updated on October 15, 2019
nightmarenyx profile image

As an avid Magic player, I can't praise this game enough. From its complex mechanics to the beautiful card art, it's truly awesome.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
A large stack of cards, separated into decks.A basic MTG card.How a tournament looks.
A large stack of cards, separated into decks.
A large stack of cards, separated into decks.
A basic MTG card.
A basic MTG card.
How a tournament looks.
How a tournament looks.

What Is Magic: The Gathering?

Magic: The Gathering, also known as Magic or MTG, is not just a card game for teens; it is considered a critical thinking strategy game for all ages. In Magic, you are a wizard, or planeswalker, set out to destroy your opponent with items, spells, and fantasy creatures. It is also a trading card game, where players trade or battle for cards that they want for their own MTG deck.

Why Play?

Magic is a great way to pass the time and an even better way to start a game that everyone can enjoy. Though the thought of having fun is definitely a plus for playing Magic—it’s far from the only reason.

One of the best reasons to start collecting and playing Magic is for the joy of a quick buck. Magic cards can be worth a lot depending on their rarity and how they play during the game. You can also make money off Magic by playing in tournaments—which many of the best players do.

How the Colors Interact
How the Colors Interact

Starting a Magic Deck: The Basics

Most player’s decks are based off of a specific color; the colors all have certain meanings which will be explained in detail very soon. Another thing players take into consideration when building a deck is how much mana is needed and what they want their deck to be based on.

It is recommended to only use two colors in the beginning and keep the card number at the tournament to a minimum of 60 cards—for a better chance at picking the card that you’ll need.

Now for the colors: white, blue, red, green and black.

  • White is the color for justice and is generally used for restoring the lives of both creatures on the field and the player.
  • Blue is considered the color of wisdom because a player with a blue deck generally knows how to gain control and the upper hand. Their strongest strategy is stopping players from using their cards and letting their opponent steal their cards.
  • Red is considered the color of chaos and the planeswalker that uses red wants to win as quickly as possible with maximum damage.
  • Green is the color of nature, and a player using green focuses strongly on creatures and the force of mother nature.
  • Black is the color of ambition. Black decks have a lot of death within them; the player using black cards are willing to do anything to win a battle.

How to Play Magic: The Gathering

Now for the biggest and most important thing to understand if you plan on playing and not collecting — how to play! I would suggest practicing with friends before actually attempting to compete in a tournament unless it is a beginner’s tournament.

1) Pick the deck you’ll be using for the match; many players have multiple decks with different color combinations.

2) Shuffle your deck and collect seven cards. The rest of the deck becomes known as a library. If you don’t like your hand you can mulligan — shuffle your hand back into the deck and draw six cards instead of seven. You can continue doing this, drawing one less card each time, until you like your hand.

3) Thus begins the first phase. If it is the first round, skip this step: Untap all tapped permanents. No one casts spells or activates abilities.

  • Upkeep: If your card states that an ability will trigger “at the beginning of your upkeep” then allow abilities and instants to be played.
  • Beginning-of-Upkeep Abilities. This part of the turn is mentioned on a number of cards: If something is supposed to happen just once per turn, right at the beginning, an ability will trigger “at the beginning of your upkeep.” Players can cast instants and activate abilities.
  • The Draw Step: The player who goes first skips the draw step on his or her first turn. Players can then cast instants and activate abilities.

4) The first main phase. Cast any sorceries, instants, creatures, artifacts, enchantments, and planeswalkers; activate abilities; play a land—but remember you can only play one during the turn. The opponent can activate abilities and instants at this time.

5) Beginning combat. Cast instants and activate abilities; your opponent will be trying to cast things that will prevent your creatures from attacking.

  • Attack. Decide what untapped creatures will attack and what will be attacked. Tap the attacking creatures.
  • Block. Your opponent decides which untapped creatures will block your attacking creatures, if there are multiple blockers for one creature order them to show which is first and so on.
  • Combat damage. Each attacking or blocking creature on the battlefield gives combat damage to the defending player, planeswalker, or creature if it wasn’t blocked. When attacking, if you’re blocked by multiple creature the combat damage is divided out (enough to kill the first, then so on and so forth. If an attacking creature is blocked by multiple creatures, you divide its combat damage among them by assigning at least enough damage to the first blocking creature in line to destroy it before assigning damage to the next one in line, and so on.
  • End of combat. Players can cast instants and activate abilities.

6) Second Main Phase: “You can cast every type of spell and activate abilities, but your opponent can only cast instants and activate abilities. You can play a land during this phase if you didn’t during your first main phase.”

7) Ending Phase: Abilities that trigger “at the beginning of your end step” go on the stack.

  • Cleanup. Discard your cards until your hand only holds seven. Damage on creatures is removed and any effects that are specific to the turn end. Nothing can be cast unless it is triggered for the end phase.

Things to Remember During Gameplay

The more powerful the spell, the more mana you need (that is, the more lands you need). The longer into the game you wait to play them, the more mana you will have to use them. Some spells also require the payment of additional resources, such as cards in play or life points. Some spells have effects that override normal game rules.

While your opponent is playing, if they attack and you cannot block them, then you begin to lose player life. You start off with 20. Whoever reaches zero first, loses the match. If a creature dies it is sent to the graveyard, and cards in the graveyard can only be resurrected if you have another card that says so. When you play a card, not only do you follow the effect it says but you can also attack with it.

© 2012 nightmarenyx


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • profile image

      Arthur Marklen 

      2 years ago

      Like it. But what is trample ande energy counters?

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Very nice and simple guide! Would love in pdf or simple text form.

    • nightmarenyx profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Florida

      The only reason why I stated it as "Dummies" is because I wrote it as I was learning how to play. I assumed for those viewing this particular hub it would be due to the fact that they were beginning to learn how to play and for the most part knew what a stack was.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Not that informative, you used some keywords that people who don't play wouldn't know, such as the "stack" (set of abilities and spells that will resolve in a set order with the last activated first to resolve). Next time you call it for "dummies" make it a bit more basic.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)