As a Planeswalker, you are a powerful being who travels the Multiverse, defeating all who would oppose (believe me, there’s a lot).

To defeat your opponent, you summon creatures to your aid; employ sneaky tactics such as causing an opponent to discard cards from their hand, or even causing them to discard their entire library of cards that they would play in the game.

But how does it all work?

Let’s start with the basics.

Each player starts with 20 health points.

There are many ways to defeat an opponent; the most common of which is to reduce their health to zero or below. Of course, there are alternative methods, but for now let’s keep this simple!

You want to summon a creature to attack your opponent? Okay, that’s fine. But fire needs fuel to burn, and creatures need mana to summon. Mana in MTG is composed of Lands. Lands can be either of 5 different colours (or sometimes two in one!). The colours of Magic are White, Blue, Black, Red and Green.

White focuses on controlling your opponent’s creatures, such as removing them from play, building up a defence and gaining health points.

Black focuses on infuriating your enemy, summoning zombies and is pretty much considered Black Magic. Black causes opponents to discard cards from their hands and to cause players to lose life by unconventional means. (I.E Not having a creature bashing in your face)

Red focuses on fire, annihilating and burning your enemies with powerful damage spells, or summoning weak goblins en masse to swarm your foes.

Blue is a more focused control, countering opponent’s spells and “milling” their library, causing them to discard cards from their library and place them in the discard pile, the graveyard.

Finally, Green is focused on pulling out nasty huge creatures that will ruin every picnic in sight.

Summoning creatures.

Creatures cost Mana to cast. Sometimes this mana cost is specific to a certain colour, usually indicating that the card itself is a specific colour.

cat

This is a cat. (not as handsome as Geoff, of course…)

It is also a typical example of a black spell, causing opponents to discard cards.

First things first, what are card stats, how do they affect game play and how do you cast them?

Using the Black Cat as an example, it has a mana cost of [1][B]. This means you must pay 1 mana of any colour and a black land. By paying the mana cost of a card, you must tap your lands respective to its mana cost. Playing Black Cat would mean its controlling player must tap a black land and any other coloured land.

The Black Cat has a power and toughness; these are respectively shown by the 1/1 at the bottom right hand corner of the card.

Most cards contain Flavour text and Rules text. Flavour text is traditionally in italics, it is not relevant to game play however it may cause you to giggle during a match. Rules text, on the other hand, is important. The rules text for the Black Cat is: “When Black Cat Dies, target opponent discards a card at random.” This is a triggered ability and only occurs when a specific event happens; in this example Black Cat’s toughness is reduced to zero or below and is considered to have died. The controller of the Black Cat may now decide which player discards a card. The random part may be decided by a coin toss (if they have two cards in their hand) or by rolling a die.

I’m going to diverge slightly and talk about the battlefield and the stack. This is the location of all active creatures (active meaning not dead), enchantments, artifacts and other items. It may seem simple, but it could be considered one of the most complicated areas of the game. Not only is this where your creatures beat the hell out of your opponents, but this is also where most cards are commonly played.

First things first, when you play a card, you cast a spell. Spells are placed on the “stack” which can be imagined like a pile of pizza boxes piled on top of each other. Whenever a spell is cast, it is put on the stack. Spells on the stack resolve from the top downwards. Don’t let this complicate the game, it’s fairly simple. When a spell resolves, its effects come in to play. That’s it.

Something I notice when playing against new players, if you deal damage to one of their creatures and the creature has an activated ability; you can use that cards’ ability before it is destroyed. This is a brilliant example of how the stack works, because even though a spell hasn’t been cast, it demonstrates how activated abilities work, and when you can use them. Provided the creature doesn’t have summoning sickness (more on this shortly) then its abilities can be used and this happens before the creature itself is dealt damage. In short, if your creature is about to die you can use its activated ability before the damage is assigned!

Back on track, you’ve played a cat! First you need to understand how playing the Black Cat from your hand is considered a spell. Spells are any card cast from your hand. Spells must resolve before coming in to play. Unfortunately, spells can be countered by cards such as Cancel or the self-titled Counterspell. These cards render your spell useless, and the card that you cast is placed in your graveyard. (Note: playing a land is not considered a spell, therefore it cannot be countered. However lands can be destroyed if subject is a typical “Destroy Target Land,” it does happen, and it’s very annoying)

Cats are great, but unfortunately they; like most other creatures in the Multiverse, suffer from a term known as summoning sickness. Summoning sickness means that the creature on the battlefield summoned this turn cannot be used to attack, and its current abilities cannot be activated. Only certain creatures are not affected by summoning sickness, these creatures contain a key word called Haste. Haste allows you to play a creature straight away (so you can attack with it as soon as it is summoned) or use its activated abilities provided you have the mana for it.

goblin

Raging Goblin is a brilliant example of red spells and haste all at once. It has a mana cost of [R] meaning it only requires 1 red land to play it. Magic players are full of jargon and may refer to them as one drops meaning they can be played on your first turn.

This card in particular is great, because if you play first you may play a land, cast-raging goblin and attack for 1 damage. All before your opponent has even thought about casting a land card!

Some players decide to build a deck around goblins, paying low mana costs to summon low power creatures to swarm your enemies. As awesome as goblins are, they can be pretty weak late in the game. If you were playing a goblin deck versus a green deck (usually full of big nasties) the green player may cast several high power creatures, such as Duskdale Wurm and overwhelm you quite quickly. We’ll come back to that later.

When playing Magic, players take it in turns to play. Put simply, the turn structure is composed of:

  • Upkeep/Start step: This is where you draw a card and cards with effects such as “at the beginning of your upkeep” trigger
  • Pre combat Main Phase: In this phase you may cast sorcery, enchantment, land and creature cards. You can only play 1 land per turn from your hand.
  • Combat Phase, separated into three steps for ease:

Attacking

Pretty simple, you declare to your opponent which creatures you are going to attack them with. Only the active player (whose turn it is) may declare attackers. When you declare creatures as attacking, they become tapped, meaning their activated abilities cannot be activated after the damage step (but can during this phase). Tapped creatures cannot block.

Blocking

The defending player may choose to block the damage dealt by their opponent’s creatures.

Damage

Once attacking and blocking creatures are declared, these creatures fight! Some creatures may have the key word First Strike in their rules text, meaning that they attack first. If two creatures with first strike attack each other, then they deal damage as though they didn’t have first strike.

  • Post combat Main Phase: Again, you may play a sorcery, enchantment, land or creature.
  • End: your turn is over. This is where “at the beginning of your end step” affects trigger.

wyrm

A Duskdale Wurm, however, will really spoil your goblin party because it has its own keyword. Trample.

Trample is fairly common with Wurms. In most core sets of MTG cards, keywords are explained on the card itself but in some other sets, it’s not.

Scenario: Raging Goblin attacks Green player. The green player can choose to block the damage dealt to him by using a creature as a meat shield. The blocking and attacking creatures will now attack each other at the same time, dealing damage equal to their power to one another. In this case, Duskdale Wurm takes 1 damage, and its Toughness is reduced to 6. The Raging Goblin doesn’t have such luck, and is absolutely flattened by the Wurm. The Raging Goblin dies and gets discarded.

Come the green players turn, he wants revenge. The Green player decides he wants to attack the red player. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that the red player has another Raging Goblin that he can block the Wurm with. The red player does so. Duskdale Wurm has trample. Any damage left over after reducing Raging Goblin’s toughness lower than zero is dealt to the red player himself. This usually cannot be prevented.

Don’t be put off by the depth of Magic: The Gathering. It is a game of strategy, luck and skill. The skill part grows on you, so don’t expect to beat a pro tour champion straight off (unless he is seriously lacking mana!). If you haven’t heard of Magic: The Gathering before and you’re now interested, I recommend playing Duels of the Planeswalkers on Steam to get used to the play style.