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Useful Notes: Magic: The Gathering
The basic play of Magic: The Gathering is as follows: Each player starts with a deck of cards (referred to within the game as a "library"), which must contain a minimum number of cards (usually 60 or 40, depending on the game format - see below), and draws a hand of seven to begin with.

There are two major rules that need to be noted before continuing:
  1. If a game rule ever contradicts the text on a card, the card wins. note 
  2. If one card's effect states that a special action can be taken, and another one says that you cannot, then you cannot do so. "Can't beats Can."

The Basic Turn Structure

  1. Beginning Phase. This phase is divided into three steps:
    1. Untap Step: Untap all permanents you control. "Tapping" is caused by using land for mana, activating abilities of other cards, and attacking. It generally represents being "used up." Tapped cards can only untap during this phase of the turn, and all tapped cards must untap unless something on the card says they can't or don't have to note . There is one other thing that happens during this step regarding the obsoleted "Phasing" mechanic, but this almost never comes up, as the mechanic was permanently retired after the Mirage block.
    2. Upkeep Step: Some cards say, "At the beginning of your upkeep, do [X]," and these abilities trigger at this time. Things that might happen during this phase vary from recurring mana costs to discarding something which has a limited lifespan.
    3. Draw Step: The active player draws a card. The only exception is the person who takes the first turn of a two-player game.
  2. Main Phase. During which, you may:
    • Play one land from your hand. Basic lands generate Mana naturally; it is part of the gameplay and isn't required to say such on the card. They generate one mana of its associated color when tapped. Nonbasic lands sometimes generate a different amount (or color!) of mana, or have completely different abilities altogether.
    • Cast any number of spells from your hand, as long as you have sufficient mana to cast them.note  Some cards require additional, non-mana costs to cast, such as sacrificing creatures or paying life; and "Instant" spells are "fast" enough to be played when it is not even your turn. (More on that later.) The majority of spells summon things such as creatures or artifacts.
  3. Combat Phase. The combat phase is divided into five steps:
    1. Beginning of Combat Step: No turn-based actions happen here, but instants can be cast and activated abilities can be activated here.
    2. Declare Attackers Step: At the beginning of the step, the active player chooses which creatures, if any, will attack. He also chooses which player or planeswalker each creature will attack. If no creatures are declared as attackers, skip to the End of Combat Step.
    3. Declare Blockers Step: At the beginning of the step, the non-active player(-s) choose, for each creature attacking them or a planeswalker they control, how to block that creature. If an attacking creature is blocked by multiple creatures, the attacking player must declare in what order the defending creatures will be dealt damage. If one creature is blocking multiple attackers , the defending player chooses in what order the blocker will assign damage to the creatures it blocks.
    4. Combat Damage Step: At the beginning of this step, damage is assigned, and then creatures deal damage to one another simultaneously. Exception 
    5. End of Combat Step No turn-based actions happen here, but instants can be cast and activated abilities can be activated. Also, abilities that trigger "at end of combat" trigger here.
    • Regarding the combat phase in general - Attacking and blocking is a fairly significant branch of game strategy. Attacking causes a creature to become tapped, and tapped creatures cannot block, which means they're out of the fight when it's your opponent's turn. Also, if an attacker is blocked, it is blocked; it fights only the creature that got in its way, even if it's a Physical God and the blocker is a Red Shirt making a Heroic Sacrifice. (This tactic is called "chump-blocking.") Knowing when to block (and possibly sacrifice your creatures) versus how much damage you can afford to take from unblocked creatures is key... especially since some of your creatures may have important roles in your long-term strategy, making it dangerous to use them as Stone Walls. Suffice it to say, the combat phase is Serious Business.
  4. Another Main Phase. You can still only play one land per turn, so if you played one during the first main phase, you've got to wait until next turn. However (free tip), a lot of players just attack first and don't use their first Main Phase to do anything. This is because newly-cast creatures have what's called "Summoning Sickness," which prevents them from doing anything except blocking until your next Untap Step. Plus, if you attack first, your opponent may commit creatures, mana, spells or other resources that he could otherwise use to mess with your Main-Phase spells.
  5. End Phase. End your turn. This phase is also divided into two steps:
    1. End Step: Abilities that trigger "At the beginning of your end step" trigger now. Instants can be cast and activated abilities can be activated here.
    2. Cleanup Step: Damage built up over the course of the turn wears off here, and simultaneously, abilities which last "Until End of Turn'' end here. The active player then discards down to his maximum hand size . Instants cannot be cast here, and activated abilities cannot be activated, though there are a small number of effects which trigger here (and some, such as that of Megrim, which can trigger off the discard at this time). If any of these effects happen, Instants and activated abilities may be played during this step, and then there will be additional cleanup steps until nothing more triggers.

The gameplay mechanics of specific spells provide ways to change just about any of the rules above, including turn order. There are ways to both increase and decrease the base hand size for all players, play more than one land card a turn, draw additional cards, create an additional combat phase and even skip your opponent's turn altogether.

How To Win

The game can be won in any of the following ways:
  • Reducing your opponent's life total from 20 to 0 (by far the most common)
  • Emptying your opponent's library (known as "decking" him, or alternatively "milling" him, after Millstone, one of the earliest cards to support such a strategy). He will lose if unable to draw a card when required to do so, so if you can somehow manage to force him to draw 54 cards, you've won.
  • Giving your opponent 10 poison counters through cards such as this.
  • Through the use of a variety of cards which set up alternate win conditions. These are what we call "Golden Snitches," and there is a big list of them on the main page.

Magic is largely played in one-on-one duels and multiplayer free-for-all games, mostly because anything else involves new sets of rules which have to be developed and implemented. Having said that, such rules have been implemented, anything from 5-player formats to 3v3 teams or even the simple rule that you can only attack the player sitting to your left (thus resulting in a Dwindling Party until only two players remain), and in recent years Wizards has been known to get involved with multiplayer formats, as with Archenemy, Planechase, and co-opting the much-loved Elder Dragon Highlander format as Commander.

The Colors of Magic

Spells in Magic are associated with one of five "colors", each with its own ideology and basic land (in parentheses):

The colors are arrayed in a "color pie." Each color has two allies, the colors next to it, and two enemies, the colors across from it. The color wheel follows the order seen above (white-blue-black-red-green). The mechanics of the cards often reflect these relationships; white, for example, has a number of creatures with "protection from black" or "protection from red", as well as creatures who are stronger or have extra abilities when paired with Green or Blue.

Often, the colors are referred to by their initials: WUBRG (pronounced "woo-berg"). "U" is used for blue, since black has already taken "B" (Black is, after all, the selfish color) and "L" was for land. The balance between them and resulting Faction Calculus is one of the defining features of the game.

When assembling their decks, the player is not required to stick to one color; there have been tournament-winning decks involving two, three, four, five or even no colors (often colloquially referred to as "mono-brown" after the brown color of the original card frame for artifacts). Adding more colors allows access to a greater variety of spells, but also makes you statistically less likely to, on any given turn, have spell cards in your hand that you can actually cast with the lands currently available to you. And, just for fun, there are Gold multicolor cards, which mix colors and so bring the strengths of both, sometimes compounding or removing the individual colors' weaknesses. Two-, three-, four- and five-color cards have been published, in varying amounts (there's only been five four-color cards ever, for instance).

Mono-color decks result in a Limited Move Arsenal, but an arsenal that is extremely focused; theoretically, every spell you draw is a spell you can use to (try to) win, and every land you draw is a land that can help you cast those spells. However, every color comes with the ability to lock down the colors it is opposed to, and you can suddenly find yourself with no useful options because you only use that one color. The next step, two colors, starts edging into tricky territory: if you draw (say) a hand that has all Green spells but all Red mana, you're kind of screwed. And, the Random Number God being the malicious beast he is, it's far too likely to draw such a hand. The more colors you have, the harder it is to guarantee you can cast your current spells with your current lands.

However, there is a converse to the color system, in the form of "Awesome, but Impractical". Every spell has a casting cost, and this casting cost can involve numbers and/or colored-mana symbols. When written out on the Internet, players typically just use the letters above—WUBRG—and we'll be using the same convention. So Blanchwood Treefolk, say, would be marked as "4G". What does "4G" mean? It means that, to cast this spell, you need 1 Green mana (the "G") and 4 more additional mana of any color (the "4"). However, some spells require more than one colored mana to cast. This makes them impractical, and accordingly they become more awesome.

Let's compare Blanchwood Treefolk, who does 4 damage and has 5 Hit Points, to the Leatherback Baloth, which has the same "body" but costs GGG instead of 4G. It seems ridiculous: the Baloth has a "Converted Mana Cost" of 3, while the Treefolk is 5! What gives? Well, the answer is simple: the Treefolk are way easier to play in a multicolored deck. They only need 1 Forest out. The Baloth needs three... and if you're playing a two-color deck, it's not unreasonable for you to not have 3 Forests out until Turn 5—which, by what is undoubtedly pure coincidence, is the same time the Treefolk become playable. In the same vein, Gold multicolor cards get an additional power boost because their casting costs are even more difficult. Simply put, the more colored-mana symbols a spell has, the more powerful it is likely to be... but, accordingly, the harder it is to cast. 3R and 2RR have the same Converted Mana Cost, but very different practical costs.

"Tapping", where one turns a card to a 90-degree angle, represents the usage of the card's available resource (whether extracting mana from a land or attacking with a creature). Players untap all their permanents at the beginning of their turn. Wizards of the Coast has issued a controversial patent on the "tapping" mechanic, and can legally challenge any card game which involves turning cards to a 90-degree angle to show that the card has been expended somehow.

Card Types

Each card also has (sometimes more than) one of eight card types.
  • Lands are cards that represent your sources of mana, the magical energy you use to do just about everything in the game; it is almost impossible to design a deck without Lands in it (and can be just as difficult to play the deck if you don't draw enough of them during the game). Lands are tapped to produce mana, but may also have other abilities. Lands don't cost mana to play, but only one may be played per turn. The Boring, but Practical foundation of Magic for nearly two decades, Lands have recently been put in the spotlight gameplay-wise and graphically fancified up by the Zendikar set.
    • As mentioned above, at the end of each phase your "mana pool" empties of any mana you didn't use. A bit of the rules now removed was the idea of "Mana Burn": if there was any mana lost this way, you took one damage for each mana. While this was flavorful, it didn't really add anything to gameplayómost players don't have extra mana to activate, and the few who did were experienced enough to not really care if they took a few points of damageóand so the rule was removed in 2010. In 2012 this was revealed to be a Chekhov's Gun as well. By removing mana burn, Wizards can now use a player's life total as a threshold, because you (personally) don't have reliable ways of lowering your own life total. This was first seen in the ability "Fateful Hour," which makes your creatures stronger if you (personally) are at 5 life or less.
  • Creatures (known in older sets as "Summon (creature type)") are the most common type of card — making up more than half the total cards published; one set was even entirely composed of creatures — they represent the magical army summoned by the player/planeswalker to do battle on their behalf. They have two numerical values associated with them, found in the bottom right corner of the card and separated by a slash: "power", the amount of damage they deal in combat, and "toughness", the amount of damage it takes to destroy them. As a rule, any damage a creature takes only lasts until end of turn, and it goes away if the creature is still alive at that point. This leaves it completely unhurt again at the start of the next turn; however, all damage taken over the same turn does add up. Creatures are one of the most popular aspects of Magic, and most decks use them; the few that don't are often notorious for that reason, and treated with some skepticism by newer players. (For the curious, the second-most-popular aspect of Magic, and the only other theme to get an entire set built around it, are the Gold multicolor cards.)
  • Artifacts and Enchantments are the other "permanent" cards, representing magic items and spells with lasting effects, respectively. Artifacts typically use colorless mana & activation costs, meaning that any deck can employ them. They often fall into two categories - Boring, but Practical, with features that Word of God felt any color should have access to, but less efficiently than the color that specializes in it (more limited card drawing than blue, more expensive direct damage than red, less aggressive creatures than white or green, etc.), and So Cool It's Awesome, in a deliberate attempt by Wizards to evoke the "Lost Technology" trope. Meanwhile, Enchantments are always colored and can thus be more powerful and specific in their effects. Both types of card might feature abilities that need to be "activated" (by paying mana for them) or abilities that are "always on."
  • Instants and Sorceries are the non-"permanent" spells, in that they provide one-time, on-the-spot effects and go immediately to the discard pile when they've done their task. The primary difference between the two is when they are allowed be played: sorceries can only be cast during your Main Phase, while instants can be used at basically any time, including during the combat phase and during your opponent's turn. This has enormous tactical value. A Sorcery that makes your creature stronger has basically one use: buff your creature and hope your opponent is dumb enough to put a Red Shirt in the way. (Note: he probably isn't.) An Instant that has the same effect can be used to lure your opponent into a false sense of security—"Whatever, my Mauve Shirt can handle it"—or can be used at a later time to save your creature from Great Balls of Fire or something by giving it extra Hit Points. For this reason, Instants are often weaker or more expensive than Sorceries of comparable effect.

    There used to be two other categories of non-permanent spell that were similar to instants. An "Interrupt" was even faster than an instant, allowing them to "interrupt" any other spell as it was being being cast. A "Mana Source" was also "faster-than-instant" speed, as it could be cast to generate Mana while you were paying the cost for another spell that you'd already started casting. As part of a major overhaul of the game rules in Sixth Edition, both of them have since been folded into the Instant category—with the rider that mana-providing abilities or spells in general can't be countered. In the meanwhile, Instants played as interrupts, in response to each other, go on "The Stack", where whichever spell was played last has its effect first. This seems counter-intuitive, but it ultimately makes sense in gameplay.
  • Planeswalkers are the newest card type, representing a temporary ally in the form of another powerful wizard — a planeswalker like yourself — whom you can call on for aid. They come into play with a particular amount of "loyalty" (read: Hit Points), and, on each of your turns, can use one of their abilities at the cost of gaining or losing loyalty. They can also be attacked like players, which also damages their loyalty. Planeswalker cards are supposed to invoke the idea of Guest Star Party Members, with their decks represented by the character's on-card abilities.
  • Tribal: the Red Headed Step Child of Card Types. There is no singular "Tribal" card; instead, Tribal always has a second non-creature type. Tribal cards exist to make non-creature spells a creature type, such as a Goblin Enchantment or an Elf Sorcery, and thus allow them to benefit from Enemy Summoner effects. It is a card type rather than a supertype because it has subtypes. A supertype can't have an associated subtype without causing the rules to explode. (Again.)

Cards often also have subtypes, which are types within types. Common subtypes include, but are not limited to:
  • Creature Types: Most creatures have at least one creature type, typically their race or Character Class. Creature types can have a significant effect on gameplay, as many cards have effects that depend on creature types (e.g. "This card strengthens all Elves you control"). Creature types are also used to give flavor to common game mechanics. For example, Knights will often have first strike and other combat-altering abilities, Goblins tend to be self-destructive, many Demons are exceptionally powerful but have dangerous drawbacks to using them, and Druids almost always generate mana or manipulate land in some manner.
  • Planeswalkers have analogous but separate planeswalker types, which are typically their given names; for example "Chandra Nalaar" and "Chandra Ablaze" both have the subtype "Chandra". Originally, only one planeswalker with the same subtype can be in play at any one time because they represent different versions of a single character, similar to the Legend rule that existed from Kamigawa through Magic 2014. With the Magic 2014 rules changes, now each player can control one planeswalker with the same planeswalker subtype; if any player controls more than one, he/she chooses one and sends the others to the graveyard. This rule change mirrors the change to the "Legend Rule" described below.
  • Auras: Auras are a special type of Enchantment that are attached to a specific target, usually a permanent but possibly a player, a graveyard, etc. Standard Enchantments are permanents in their own right and have Ontological Inertia; they sit on your side of the table and have their effect. Auras, on the other hand, have No Ontological Inertia and leave play when the thing they are aura-ing is removed. Auras used to have a type of "Enchant ____" (e.g. "Enchant Creature", "Enchant Artifact", "Enchant Dead Creature"), but this got unwieldy, leading to a naming generalization. You can still enchant a dead creature, but the card says so in its text box now instead of its type line.
  • Equipment: Equipment are artifact cards that typically do nothing on their own, but have an additional cost that lets it attach to creatures to give them bonuses or new abilities. Unlike Auras, Equipment can be moved between creatures during your turn, and remain in play if the creature wearing them dies.

There are also supertypes, which can apply to any card type:
  • Basic: This supertype is only used for lands. The four-copy limit does not apply to basic lands, and basic lands are usually the only lands you need in your deck in order to play the game. Plains, Forest, Mountain, Swamp, and Island cards are basic lands, as are the snow-covered lands from Ice Age. Keep in mind that "Island", "Mountain", "Plains", "Forest", and "Swamp" are all subtypes, meaning that nonbasic land cards can have any of these types without being considered a basic land.
  • Snow: The alternate "snow-covered" basic lands in the Ice Age block, as well as some other permanents from the Coldsnap set, are called "snow permanents." Many cards in the block, such as Skred, are interested in snow permanents, and mana produced by snow permanents has the special "snow" quality, which is required to pay for some costs in the Coldsnap expansion, such as Chilling Shade.
  • Legendary: Legendary cards depict figures that, in their own worlds, are spoken of in legends. They are usually more powerful than non-legendary cards, and only one legendary card of the same name can be under any one player's control at a time: if a player controls more than one legendary card with the same name, he or she chooses one and the rest die.
    • Legendary permanents used to be only creatures, of type "Legend", and lands ("Legendary Land"), all introduced in the Legends expansion set. At first, only one creature type could be written on the type line. Legends who needed an additional type had the text "Counts as a <whatever>". The "Legend" type was later expanded to "<some other creature type(s)> Legend" when creatures with multiple types appeared. "Legendary" later became a general-purpose supertype to allow for a few legendary artifacts and enchantments.
    • Originally the rule was that if two legendary cards with the same name were on the battlefield, the newest one would be put in the graveyard immediately. This was changed in the Kamigawa block to encourage the use of legends (a major Kamigawa theme). Then, if two or more legendary permanents with the same name are on the battlefield, all are put in the graveyard (although, of course, there are ways to circumvent that rule). As of Magic 2014, if a player controls two or more legendary permanents with the same name, that player chooses one and places the rest in his or her graveyard.
  • World: A defunct supertype, World only appears on some Enchantments (World Enchantment) introduced before the Weatherlight block. They represented effects that are so game-changing that no more than one can be active at a time. If a new World Enchantment enters the battlefield, all other World Enchantments automatically leave play immediately. The intent was to represent the flavor of taking your battle to a new world with its own unique set of rules; Wizards would later re-attempt to capture this idea with 2009's Planechase format.

Other Various Rules

Each player's deck represents the mind of the wizard, with cards representing spells in a Vancian Magic sort of way. As such, the deck being called your "Library" doesn't make too much sense... until you realize that the deck was supposed to represent a Spell Book, as suggested by the "front cover" motif on the back of the cards. The "graveyard" is where cards go when they're used up. Sorceries and instants go to the graveyard immediately after resolving; permanents go to the graveyard when destroyed or sacrificed. Some spells send cards directly to the graveyard from your hand or library, while others can return cards from the graveyard to your hand, to the battlefield, or to the library.

Cards are released in "blocks" of three sets, and each block has a story behind it. For a long time, most of them involved affairs on Dominaria, the hub-world of the Magic Multi Verse, and specifically the life and times of the planeswalker Urza, his arch-nemesis Yawgmoth of Phyrexia, and the efforts Urza took to defend Dominaria from invasion by same. The individual expansions Arabian Nights and Homelands briefly explored new settings, and the Tempest and Masques blocks had Dominarian heroes visit new planes on their travels, but it wasn't until Mirrodin that it became standard practice for the game to visit a new world every year. Plane-hopping became such an accepted practice that it was a shock when the game returned to a previous setting—also Mirrodin, as it happens.

When Magic was first released, an "ante rule" was in the official books. This stated that players would add the top card of their deck at the start of the game to the "ante", and whoever won the game would keep the ante cards. Not wanting to turn games into Serious Business, most players just didn't follow the ante rule; in addition, the ante rules fell foul of anti-gambling laws in some US states. Wizards of the Coast made the smart decision to discontinue the rule early on; even the earliest officially sanctioned tournaments did not use ante, and as such banned the use of cards that manipulated the ante.

The complexity of the game comes from the fact that the cards themselves constantly alter the rules of the game: powering up creatures, drawing extra cards, disallowing attack or making it happen twice as often, and so on. As mentioned, the game's "Golden Rule" sums it up: when the cards contradict the rulebook, the card wins. Furthermore, many cards interact with each other in interesting (and sometimes unintentional) ways, leading to a wide variety of strategies around which decks are built. Even worse, the game's dev team is constantly tweaking the game in new ways; after 16 years, the Rise of the Eldrazi set has finally introduced colorless, nonartifact creatures and spells, the narrative excuse being that the Eldrazi are eldritch abominations that predate the invention of colored magic. (Note that this is not the same as Artifact spells, which have a different card frame. Eldrazi cards have a transparent frame with full art while artifacts are generally a gunmetal color.)

Finally, let's address rarity.
  • Magic cards come in four rarities: "common", "uncommon," "rare," and the introduced-in-2008 "mythic rare" (basic lands get their own rarity and should not be included).
  • On all cards since Exodus, the expansion symbol (at the right side of the typebar) has been colored according to the card's rarity: black for commons and basic land, silver for uncommons, gold for rares, and copper red for mythic rares. note 
  • The math is boring, so let's simplify it by saying that cards are printed in huge sheets which are chopped up later, and the three rarities correspond to how many times per sheet the card is printed. In every pack you open, you are guaranteed W number of lands, X commons, Y uncommons and Z rares (where the numbers themselves depend on how many cards are in the pack; you're not going to get 30 commons from a 15-card pack).
    • The standard Booster Pack size is 15, with 11 commons, 3 uncommons, and a rare. Starting at some point in Magic's second decade, one or more commons was replaced with a basic land. There is about a 1-in-4 chance of getting a "mythic rare" instead of a standard rare.
    • Some early smaller sets (Arabian Nights, Antiquities, The Dark, Fallen Empires, Homelands) had only Common and Uncommon, but further subdivided into C3, C1, U3, and U1. Came in packs of 8, with 5 commons and 3 uncommons.
    • Some older large expansions also came in Starter Decks, later renamed Tournament Packs. These contained 60 (later 75) cards, 20 (later 30) of which were basic land. The remaining 40ish cards followed the same rough distribution as Booster Packs: at least 3 rares, around 10 uncommons, and the rest common.

Often Power Equals Rarity, though useful cards come at all rarities; Simple Yet Awesome common staples include Pacifism, Mana Leak, Doom Blade, Lightning Bolt and Giant Growth. Wizards also uses the rarity system to help ease players into the game: they employ the Inverse Law of Complexity to Power and save the confusing cards (not to mention the Junk Rares) for the higher rarities. This stops a beginning player—who mostly sees and owns commons—from being overwhelmed by waves of minutiae and giving up in confusion. (And that's not an idle concern; in reading this page, you've seen the Loads and Loads of Rules for yourself.)

Deck Design

So. We've talked about individual cards, and you're now going to assemble them into a 60-card deck. There are three very basic strategies one can follow.
  • Aggro, the Zerg Rush deck. These decks are carefully designed so that they draw a land to play every turn, cast as many creatures as they can every turn, and attack (successfully) every turn; since the creatures are typically smaller, low-cost ones, these are also called "Weenie" or "Weenie horde" decks. The best designs in this strategy can secure a victory in four or five turns. Aggro's biggest flaw is that it typically runs out of steam past a certain point, meaning it wins either fast or not at all. Red is the best at this strategy, followed by White, Green and Black; Blue can do it sometimes, but not often. Some of the most popular variants include:
    • Red Deck Wins, also named "Sligh" after the player who popularized it, seeks to overwhelm the opponent with fast, undercosted creatures in combination with Playing with Fire, using all the mana available to it every turn. It was one of the first decks to be designed with efficiency at the forefront: statistical analysis was used in choosing the combination of land and spells so that it was impossible for the Random Number God to give you a hand you could not use to full advantage—mostly by overloading on 1-mana creatures. It singlehandedly invented the concept of the "mana curve" and the attendant math; as such, it arguably represents the point when Magic first became Serious Business.
    • In modern times, "Blightning Aggro," named after its most prominent card, is a Red-Black deck that, while sharing some of Sligh's properties, tempers the loss of gas a typical aggro deck faces by forcing the opponent into card disadvantage as well (either through combat tricks or, well, Blightning.)
    • Though Sligh is the most famous version of aggro, "White Weenie" is the oldest and most popular. It swarms the opponent with cheap creatures with evasion abilities, often pumped up by enchantments. It's not nearly as fast as RDW, but it has a lot more staying power.
    • "Stompy" is a similar archetype built around Green rather than White. It uses the hyper-efficient green critters such as Scythe Tiger, Garruk's Companion, and Leatherback Baloth to power through any early-game defenses, as well as mana-producing critters such as Llanowar Elves and Birds of Paradise to ramp up the mana supply, while using the new breed of green card draw spells such as Lead The Stampede to refill the hand and keep up the assault. The main drawbacks of the deck are that 1) Green does not have much in the way of removal and 2) does not have many creatures with evasion abilities, meaning it has trouble breaking through stalemates.
    • Because red and white are typically the best colors at aggro, the two will occasionally be combined into "Boros" decks ("Boros" being the red-white guild in the Ravnica expansion, when the deck type started becoming popular). In the vein of similar red decks the prior year, it was called "Boros Deck Wins." It often utilizes cheap, efficient creatures and removal spells to achieve victory. Prime amongst them was Lightning Helix which offered a six point swing in life totals for two mana.
    • Some years later, Boros returned in Zendikar with a Landfall variant. Landfall is an ability that improves your creatures or spells in some way (usually an increase in power and toughness) if a land enters play under your control. It combined incredibly cheap Landfall cards with a number of effects that allowed you to play multiple lands in a turn. This buffed your cheap creatures at little cost to you, making them very powerful very early.
    • Suicide Black decks have a "win at all costs" philosophy, utilizing powerful creatures with big drawbacks and hoping they win before they self-destruct. Winning with 1 HP is the same as winning with 20, so why not use those 19 life as a resource? Suicide Black does exactly that. With the help of a couple Life Drain spells, it can even succeed.
    • Black also has a variant called "Reanimator," which uses cheap spells that bring dead creatures back from the graveyard. This allows you to get around the usual requirement of "hard-casting" your Awesome, but Impractical 8-mana Bad Ass creature; instead you find a way to put that creature card directly into your graveyard, with the express intent of using cheap zombification to get it onto the battlefield. Players using the most successful Reaminator decks do this long before their opponent has 8 mana of his own for an effective defense. And, even if he does manage to kill your creature, well, you can rez it again! Hilarity Ensues! (Fortunately for the opponent, there are spells that make creatures Deader than Dead.)
      • The other popular deck from Ravnica block was a black-green Reanimator variant that utilized the Dredge ability. When its creatures died, they could be brought back by putting cards from one's deck into the graveyard instead of drawing a card. This would likely put more cards with Dredge into the graveyard, and the cycle would continue until you ran out of cards or the game ended.
    • Zoo is a tri-color Red/Green/White deck that plays on synergies between the three colors of weenie beatdown to cause pain to their opponents. It relies on creatures that get better if they have allied lands in play (Kird Ape, Wild Nactal, Loam Lion), efficient multicolored beasts (Loxodon Hierarch, Wooly Thoctar), and answers for any other permanent type (through the artifact and enchantment hate of green and white, the multiple Exiling spells of white, or the direct damage of red) available. Zoo can edge into Aggro-Control at times.
  • Control, the Stone Wall deck. Control decks focus around limiting the opponent's options and gradually establishing a complete lockdown; the bulk of the deck involves spells which accomplish this. Sometimes the method used to establish "control" is also the method used to win; other methods still rely on creatures, generally large and/or hard to target and block, which just stroll over and mangle the opponent at their leisure. Because it isn't much fun to be on the receiving end of this strategy, Wizards has been watering it down in recent years.
    • "MUC", or Mono Blue Control, is exclusively ("mono") Blue, though some variations exist which get help from White. They rely on "counterspells," which create a Phlebotinum Breakdown in a spell your opponent is casting; his spell fails and his mana is wasted. These have been called "Draw-Go" decks because that's what your turn consists of ("I draw a card; your turn, go"), and also "Permission" decks because the opponent feels like he needs to have your permission before he does anything. However, don't try to play this unless you're Genre Savvy to the Metagame; you need to know which of his spells to counter, which means knowing what his deck does. (And no, you can't just blithely counter everything he casts; you don't have the mana, and your supply of counterspells is limited anyways.)
    • Board Control decks are almost always Black and/or White, and rely primarily on destroying creatures using Kill 'em All-style apocalypses, with the logic that that's how most decks win. They tend to be good at that particular job, but are slow and have a hard time dealing with big splashy spells or combo decks, making them almost the opposite of Blue Control. Many decks have successfully hybridized these strategies, though.
      • In particular, Board Control decks these days are generally one descendant of either "Mono-Black Control" or "Dead Guy Ale" or another - That is, Discard & Board Control together. MBC decks are, well, pure Black, and rely on discarding, coupled with spells which force your opponent to sacrifice his creatures. Dead Guy Ale, on the other hand, is a White & Black deck relying on most of the same cards from MBC, especially the discarding cards, but uses white for more versatile field control; this can be anything from just adding in 4 copies of a single multi-colored spell called Vindicate, to making half the deck white to add in the best spot-removal cards in the game as well as strong creatures whose damage causes you to gain HP, in order to offset the life you'll be paying to draw extra cards.
    • A new variant has emerged called "Pillowfort," which uses Power Limiter and Power Nullifier-style enchantments to limit the opponent's options. Anything he does? You defang. Every time he attacks? You benefit from it, and he has to pay outrageous costs either for attacking or to attack again. Quoth Travis Woo, "itís not fun to play against. Thatís kind of the point."
    • Land Destruction destroys lands in play, on the theory that, if the opponent has no mana, he can't do anything. Most such cards are Red, though Black and Green have a few options as well. Wizards has been watering down the strength of such spells in recent years; the archetypal land-destruction spell, Stone Rain, is a second-turn cast if you used your first turn to drop an artifact source, and (if you went first) would destroy your opponent's only land in play. Lather, rinse, repeat. Your opponent is unlikely to be entertained, and now land destruction spells typically cost 4 mana or more.
    • Prison decks accomplish the same thing but by different means. Instead of blowing up your opponent's land with spells like Stone Rain or Wildfire, Prison decks usually use artifacts with permanent or recurring effects, such as Winter Orb, Trinisphere or Smokestack, to make their opponents' lands useless.
    • Discard is almost exclusively Black, because Black has most of the spells which force the opponent to discard cards from their hand. It strikes even lower on the food-chain than does Land Destruction; after all, if your opponent has no hand, he can do even less. Because the point of Discard is to take cards from your opponent's hand and put them in the graveyard, it is essentially immune to Permission: even if he counters your discard spell, a card from his hand has still gone to his graveyard!
    • "Milling" is named after the card Millstone which provided the original effect. It forces the opponent to take cards from their library and put them in their graveyard. As Millstone is an artifact, this tactic is technically colorless, but Blue now has (colored) spells which do this sort of thing. It also may not seem like a "Control" tactic, but it limits what your opponent can play and it definitely isn't an Aggro or Combo tactic, so it goes here for lack of a better option.
    • Strictly speaking, mill does fall under control. It's not really found as a pure deck much, since milling an entire deck takes time and often requires you to have some method of controlling the board too. It is most often found as a hybrid of control method and win condition depending on situation. Combo decks (by definition) need a specific set of cards at the same time to 'go off' and if you can deprive the player of them before he has the combo set up then you are in a good position. These decks are always around in one form or another, but are seldom top tier decks, simply because they have very bad match ups against aggro decks who are very fast and difficult to disrupt that way. They can be successful in block (and even more so in draft) formats where the card pool is much more limited, which slows down aggro and makes combos more convoluted and likely doesn't provide the support (mana acceleration, deck-search cards) to make them reliable wins. Particularly drafted decks are often sub-optimal due to the random nature of the cards, meaning that they lack a solid answer to discard/mill attacks, as players focus on creatures.
  • Combo, or the A Simple Plan deck. A combo deck is one that relies on a combination of cards, that, when used together, produce an extremely powerful and hopefully game-winning effect. Because Magic has so many different cards, all of which can be played in the same deck (assuming the tournament format you're playing hasn't restricted or banned some of them), combo decks can sometimes break the game in ways that other decks can't hope to match. On the other hand, combo decks often end up being Awesome, but Impractical, because there are many ways to stop a combo from coming together: use Anti-Magic on a critical component, or Kill It with Fire if it's a creature; or even just shoot him while he's putting his IKEA Weaponry together. If you don't, then you deserve to be stuck with the Overly Long Fighting Animation of your opponent's Wave Motion Gun.
    • Because there are Over Nine Thousand Magic cards, trying to list every type of combo that has ever been used in a deck would be futile. However, here are some of the most famous:
    • A Combo-Control strategy is the Worldslayer Darksteel Plate combo. What you do is equip Darksteel plate to a creature, then equip Worldslayer. Once that creature hits a player, you can stick them in a loop which very few cards can get you out of.
    • Magic's oldest combo was Channel and Fireball, both of which were in Magic's very first set. Channel lets you turn life into mana, and Fireball does damage equal to the amount of mana you spend. Together, they result in one really big Fireball and one dead opponent. Notably, you could do this on the first turn using Black Lotus, a rare and absurdly powerful card that also appeared in Magic's first set. (Today, Black Lotus is illegal in almost every tournament format; the only exception is Vintage, which restricts it to one copy per deck.)
    • The first really famous combo deck was "ProsBloom", using Prosperity (draw more cards the more mana you pay, at a 1-1 ratio) and Cadaverous Bloom (get 2 mana for every card you exile from your hand) to work its way up to a gigantic, game-ending Drain Life. With Squandered Resources (sacrifice lands for mana) and Natural Balance (everybody gets exactly 5 lands), the deck could go off as early as turn 3.
    • Decks using the combo of Illusions of Grandeur and Donate once dominated the tournaments where it was legal. "Grandeur" gives its controller 20 life when it comes into play, but when it leaves play, its controller loses 20 life - and it will leave play, because you have to pay interest on it in the form of a mana cost that gets larger every turn. So, cast it yourself, to gain the 20 life, and then use "Donate" to make your opponent its controller. You get to keep the 20 life you gained, and your opponent gets to worry about losing 20 life (and, hopefully, the game) when s/he runs out of mana.
    • Many combo decks have been built around cards with the "Storm" ability, especially Mind's Desire. When you play a spell with Storm, it creates an extra copy of itself for each spell played earlier in the turn. Each copy of "Mind's Desire" lets you play a random card from your deck for no mana, so if you play a bunch of spells and follow them with Mind's Desire, you get to play even more spells. If those spells happen to make mana or draw extra cards, this can get out of hand really, really quickly. When it's time to actually end the game, either Tendrils of Agony or Brain Freeze can do the job pretty well.
      • It's also worth considering that unlike most combos, due to the way they work, spells with Storm are immune to the biggest nemesis of combo players: counterspells (except for Flusterstorm , Time Stop, and Mindbreak Trap; Stifle can also counter the Storm ability) (i.e : if you try to counter a spell with Storm, you end up only countering the last copy of the spell. Therefore, the spellcaster just has to always cast one extra spell before the Storm finisher to avoid failure). The whole "gathering enough mana + casting enough spells" still can be thwarted, though.
    • A creature-based combo involves either Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker or Splinter Twin and either Pestermite or Deceiver Exarch. By using the tap ability of either of the first to create a token copy of the second, and the enters-the-battlefield trigger of the second to untap the first, one can create an indeterminate number of creatures (such as 42 billion) to attack with. More recent iterations of the combo have employed Village Bell-Ringer and Restoration Angel - the Angel only combos with Kiki-Jiki, and in a slightly different manner but with the same effect.
    • Painter's Servant plus Grindstone has seen some use: Painter's Servant makes all the cards in your opponent's library share a color, so Grindstone's ability is guaranteed to repeat itself until s/he runs out of cards.

Additionally, there are two common hybrid types that draw on both Aggro and Control:
  • Aggro-Control is based around playing a few fast creatures while using control elements to protect your resources and take out your opponent's. For instance, the "U/G Madness" deck archetype (not to be confused with a webcomic named after it) uses Blue counterspells and removal to keep the board clear while Green creatures press the attack. This style is sometimes also referred to as "Countersliver", which replaced the Green creatures with a Swarm-style family of creatures called "slivers." (Slivers have the additional useful quality of making themselves stronger with every copy you play, which can get Off the Rails fast.) The Faeries archetype is the most recent example of a powerful aggro-control deck.
  • Midrange or Midgame is sort of like Aggro-Control's reciprocal: it plays defense for the first few turns, uses some control elements to stall the opponent while building up a lot of mana, and finally unleashes some huge creatures that dominate combat. White and/or Green are the best colors at this strategy. A popular deck of this archetype that was the other dominating deck of the Mirrodin era is the mighty Tooth and Nail archetype, which focuses on accelerating rapidly to nine mana to unleash the signature spell, but can also win simply by hard-casting its powerful suite of creatures, thus playing both combo and midrange.

Nowadays, it's rare to find a deck that focuses on only one strategy without wandering into another strategy's territory at least a little. Most Aggro decks have spot removal to handle enemy threats; most Control decks keep creatures around just to be safe (or to finish off a now-helpless opponent); most Combo decks use elements of one or both for defensive purposes while it puts its Wave Motion Gun together. There's even at least one deck model, 12-post, that combines elements of all threenote  This is especially true as the game gets older and cards get, on average, more powerful and flexible. For example, Erhnam Djinn was thought of as powerful and severely undercosted in 1996 and saw a lot of play in Magic's first Pro Tour; by the time "Ernie" was reprinted in the 2002 set Judgement, the balance of the game had changed to the point he was barely played at all.

On-Card Effects

Every card tends to be unique in itself, but every set introduces new game mechanics that alter the natural order of battle, usually an ability unique to a certain set of cards. Some of these effects eventually transfer over into later sets and become a commonly-used effect, sometimes to the point where it gets a shorthand to explain a more complicated power. Listing all possible card effects would take up more space than is really necessary (there's 57 of 'em), but here's some of the more common effects that have been used in more than one set:
  • Banding: That One Rule of Magic. Possibly the Trope Codifier. Intended to be I Am Legion, on the offensive, it allows any number of banding creature and ONE additional creature to attack and be blocked as a single unit and allowed the attacker to assign damage to his creatures rather than the controller of the blocking creature as normal. On the defensive, same as above, only the defender chose how the attacking creatures dealt damage to the defenders, not the attacking player. The problem is that other creatures have abilities like First Strike, Trample, Fear, Flying, and these were NOT transferred to the rest of the Band, so tramplers automatically did all damage through to the defender, flying creatures broke off and continued attacking as normal, all first strike creatures broke off to become a second Band while still being blocked by the current blockers... When Wizards realized it added NOTHING to the basic strategy of the game besides allowing players to decide how damage is done to their own creatures, and created mass confusion otherwise, they publicly dropped it like a brick. And There Was Much Rejoicing. Originally mostly white, and intended to be white's trademark move (since it's dropping First Strike has become basically white's signature ability instead)
    • If you thought Banding was confusing, feast your eyes on "Bands With Other": imagine the above, and now add a restriction on who a creature can band with. A grand total of nine cards referencing this ability were printed, eight of them from the Legends set: five lands that produce no mana but give all your Legendary creatures of a certain color Bands With Other Legendary Creatures, a green creature that creates tokens that band with each other, a green creature and a land that remove Bands With Other from a creature. (Note that none of these are creatures with the ability as standard.) The ninth is a Call Back in Unhinged, the second "joke cards" set.
  • Bloodthirst X: If any damage was dealt to any opponent at any point in the current turn before this summoning resolves, this creature comes into play with X +1/+1 counters on itself. Is primarily a Red, Green, or Black ability, given its savage nature.
  • Convoke: A spell with Convoke can be cast at a discount if you tap a number of untapped creatures as you cast that spell, with each creature being tapped this way reducing the cost of that spell by 1 generic mana, or 1 mana of that creature's color. For example, if you cast a spell with Convoke that costs 4 generic mana and 1 green mana, you may tap up to five creatures to reduce the cost of that spell, potentially for free if one of those creatures is green. Convoke originated from green-white Selesnya Guild in Ravnica, and made a return in Magic 2015 in all colors.
  • Cycling: A keyword that does not affect cards on the battlefield. "Cycling: [Cost]" means "[Cost], discard this card from your hand: draw a card". Some cards, such as Decree of Justice, have additional effects that trigger on being cycled, and some, such as Astral Slide, have abilities that trigger when a card is cycled.
    • "X"cycling: A subtype of Cycling which activates in the same way but has a radically different effect. While a pure "Cycling" card draws you the top card of your deck, "X"cycling cards effectively become "Tutors" (cards which let your search your Library). For example: a card with "Mountaincycling" lets you search your Library for a Mountain card and put it into your hand when you pay its Cycling cost; a card with "Wizardcycling" lets you search for a Wizard. Again, found in all colors, though much, much more rarely than standard Cycling because of the shear potential for abuse.
  • Deathtouch: Any creature that is dealt damage by this creature will be destroyed regardless of the toughness of the creature. This makes it a giant killer and is especially dangerous on weak 1/1 creatures that are easily replaceable. Generally green and black. note 
  • Defender: Creature cannot attack, but is able to block. Typically, because of this limitation, they have a larger-than-average power and toughness for their mana cost (e.g., paying 4 mana for a 5/6 creature with flying is unheard of normally). Beforehand it was an innate ability of creatures called a Wall, who are now retroactively considered to have the Defender ability. Generally white and blue, though found in all colors.
  • Exalted: When a creature attacks alone, it gets +1/+1 for each Exalted permanent its controller controls. A creature does not need to be Exalted to recieve the boost from other Exalted permanents. If an Exalted creature attacks alone, it also gives itself +1/+1. Unique lands and enchantments can be exalted just like a creature, such as Angelic Benediction or Cathedral of War. Exalted decks are constructed by putting together lots of Exalted cards to stack the exalted boost on any solo attacker. For example, Tormented Soul is normally unblockable, but only hits 1/1. If you have multiple Exalted cards in play, that unblockable weak creature hits much harder and becomes a dangerous threat. Originally the Bant keyword ability (White, blue, and green), returned as M13's Core Set ability in white and black.
  • Fear / Intimidate: The original keyword, "Fear," meant that when attacking, the creature with Fear cannot be blocked except by black or artifact creatures (the idea being that these creatures are so fearsome that only black creatures, unafraid of death, and artifact creatures, with no mind of their own, are willing to do battle with them). It appeared almost exclusively on Black creatures. It has since been reworked into an ability called "Intimidate," which makes the creature unblockable save for artifact creatures and creatures that share a color with the attacker—a subtle difference, but one that allows the developers to put it Red and Green creatures as well, in addition to its original Black.
  • Firebreathing: Denotes a specific activated ability which is allows the player to spend any amount of mana to pump up the creatures' power by 1 for each mana spent for the remainder of the turn. Usually takes the form of "R: (This) gets +1/+0 until end of turn," but variants have existed through Magic's history. Is most usually associated with the Dragon subtype. Almost always a Red ability, and is often considered Red's most devastating combat ability - an unblocked Firebreather with a lot of untapped Red mana behind it can potentially end the game right there.
    • "Shade pumping" is a similar ability that allows a player to pump black mana into a creature to increase both its power and toughness by 1 for the rest of the turn. Mostly found on black Shades.
  • First Strike: Under normal circumstances, when two creatures fight each other, they hit simultaneously; a creature with First Strike gets to assign damage before everyone else. Such a creature might be able to deal its opponent lethal damage before it has a chance to hit back. This is particularly useful in warding off enemy creatures whose abilities activate when they deal combat damage, like Deathtouch or Lifelink. (If two creatures with First Strike fight each other, basically the effect cancels out and damage is dealt normally.) This also partially negates the need to have a particularly high toughness for the creature if their power is exceptionally high. Generally white and red.
    • Double Strike: When attacking, creature will deal First Strike damage in addition to hitting during the "normal" phase. This essentially doubles the creature's power when in combat, as a creature with power 3 would deal 6 damage when attacking. Also generally white and red.
    • An honorable mention to "Firstest Strike," the ability on the Urban Legend of Zelda card "Throat Wolf." This card does not exist, but you can basically guess what it does.
  • Flash: this started out as a modifier on creature cards, which, like sorceries, can only be played during your turn. "Flash" allows them to enter the battlefield at "instant speed" and at any time. Gradually "Flash" began to appear on artifacts and enchantments as well, and Mark Rosewater is now on record as stating that he would prefer to make "Instant" into a supertype which grants the Flash ability. Explanation  Until (and unless) that day comes, you'll mostly find Flash spells in green, blue and white.
  • Flying: A creature with flying, for fairly obvious reasons, can only be blocked by other creatures with Flying (or with Reach; more on that later). This is one of the oldest "evasion" abilities - ways to make a creature harder to block. Note that creatures with flying can block landbound creatures. All colors besides green get flying; blue and white get most of them. (Failed attempts at replicating Flying include Flanking, Shadow and Horsemanship, which is practically identical to Flying but still fell flat because the word itself is not self-explanatory. The fact that Horsemanship is exclusive to the Portal Three Kingdoms set also does not help.)
  • Haste: Normally, creatures must wait a turn upon being summoned before using a tap effect or attacking. Haste allows creature to do either on their first turn. This has lead to some first turn victories. Mostly in red; green and black can have it as well.
    • Another honorable mention: Super Haste. This ability, found on Joke Card "Rocket Powered Turbo Slug", let the creature attack the turn before you played it. (Although it was originally a joke, the mechanic was recycled completely seriously in the Time Travel-heavy Time Spiral block, albeit not for creatures.)
  • Indestructible: Creature cannot be destroyed by card effects or combat damage. Creature is still vulnerable to non-destruction effects (return to hand, take control, sacrifice creature, and others), and can be slain if enough -1/-1 counters are placed on them to reduce their toughness to zero. Mostly found on green, white and artifact cards.
  • Infect: an elaboration on the "Wither" mechanic, a creature with Infect deals damage as -1/-1 counters to creatures, and to players as poison countersnote . Any player with 10 poison counters loses the game.
  • Landwalk: A creature with landwalk becomes unblockable if opposing player controls a land they are affiliated with. For example, Islandwalk allows that creature to directly attack a player who controls an island. All colors but white get landwalk commonly. (Honorable mention to the joke card Hurloon Wrangler, which has "Denimwalk" and can't be blocked by an opponent wearing jeans.)
    • Landhome: a creature with Landhome could not attack a player unless that player controlled a [Land], and must be sacrificed if you don't control a [Land]. This was predominantly Blue (Island), representing seagoing leviathans which would be helpless out of water, but appeared so infrequently that Wizards un-keyworded it, preferring to just spell out the two sentences instead.
  • Lifelink: Damage dealt by the creature adds an equal number of hit points to the controller's life total. Generally white and black.
  • Morph: Allows creatures (later, other cards as well), to be played face-down, a-la Yu-Gi-Oh!, for 3 colorless mana, and count as a colorless, creature-type-less 2/2 creature. It can then be turned face-up at any time if its Morph cost is paid (usually in the form of mana, which is often far less than the normal mana cost of the spell itself, but other costs exist as well, such as discarding cards). Typically, this allows for the quick play of creatures which would normally be Awesome, but Impractical due to excessive mana costs. Found in all five colors and then some, but Blue makes the most effective use of it.
  • Persist and Undying
    • When a creature with Persist dies in its natural state, it comes back, albeit slightly weaker. Specifically, the rules are, "If this creature dies and does not have a -1/-1 counter on it, return it to play with a -1/-1 counter on it." (By default, if it dies the second time, it's a Final Death.)
    • Undying: The polar opposite of the above - when a creature with Undying dies, it comes back stronger, with a +1/+1 counter on it.
    • It's already been announced that Persist and Undying will never be in the same block. Current design philosophy is to avoid having mechanics involving +1/+1 counters and mechanics involving -1/-1 counters together. note 
  • Protection From X: Protection conveys a number of resistances: The thing with protection cannot be damaged, enchanted, equipped, blocked, or targeted by what it has protection from. (The acronym DEBT is a good way to remember this somewhat random assortment.) Protection, however, does not stop effects that don't target the creature itself (which is part of why Diabolic Edict is so useful), or ones that don't deal damage (like the classic Wrath of God). Many cards allow the player to choose a color of protection, and others protect against artifacts or even a chosen card. Mostly a white ability, though found in all colors.
  • Rampage X: A retired ability, and for a good reason; rampage ups the creatures offense by X for each creature blocking it IN EXCESS of the first - this means it only fires if 2 or more creatures block this creature. It's confusing, so now they just opt to have a creature say "gets +X for each creature blocking it". Still, it lasted for almost 4 years.
  • Reach: Green's answer to its lack of flyers, creatures with "Reach" can block flying creatures despite not being fliers themselves. Typically, this is represented in the card art as them having a bow and arrow, or by being a giant spider that weaves dragon-snaring webs. Nearly always in green; if not, it'll be white.
  • Regeneration: When a creature with Regenerate takes damage that would normally destroy them, you can pay a mana cost and keep them alive; they never enter the graveyard. However, this only works when the creature is destroyed, which is different than you asking your own creature to "sacrifice" itself as part of a Thanatos Gambit spell. Found mostly in green and black.
  • Shroud: Creature cannot be targeted by spells or abilities, including your own. As with Protection From Whatever, this doesn't stop non-targeting effects or wide-scale spells that affect more than one creature. Generally green and blue.
    • Hexproof: The Magic 2012 Core Set provided a powerful update to shroud. Previously called "troll-shroud" by players due to its presence on the popular Ascetic Troll, hexproof means the creature that has it can't be targeted by spells or abilities... but only the ones your opponents control. You can target it all you want, with all the offensive and defensive implications that brings along. It's primarily in green, but it's found in white and blue as well .
  • Trample: Normally, any excess damage in combat between two creatures is ignored; "You Shall Not Pass," played straight. A creature with trample doesn't fall for this: if it has damage left over after its blocker is dead, that damage does go through to the defending player. This only works if the creature with trample is attacking; if you block with it, the excess damage is still wastednote . Trample can be found in all colors, but green has the most.
  • Unblockable: The creature can't be blocked. This pertains only to the action in the declare blockers step; spell effects can be used to cause a creature to become blocked, and they work just fine on an unblockable creature.
  • Vigilance: Attacking does not cause a creature to tap. This is useful because, as mentioned way up higher in the article, tapped creatures cannot block. Generally white and green.
  • Wither: All damage done against enemy creatures is done with -1/-1 counters, which means several things. Damage dealt by them is permanent (unless you can remove the counters), it also reduces power, and it can kill indestructible creatures. Mostly commonly black or green.

Formats of Play:

There are many different "Formats" in Magic - i.e., specific guidelines for deckbuilding, usually meant for some manner of Organized (read:Tournament) Play, which define how many cards must be included in a deck, how many copies of each card are permitted, and, in some instances, what specific cards are, and are not, permitted. Changes to restricted lists and banned lists are announced quarterly. In addition to organized formats, casual play is also popular, using general deckbuilding rules and possibly "house rules". What follows are the major formats of play, by their proper name and what sub-category of Format they fall into, according to the DCI:
  • Standard (Type 2) - (Constructed)
    • Playstyle: 1-on-1
    • Starting Life: 20
    • Deck Construction: Prior to play
      • Deck Size: Minimum of 60
      • Card Copy Limit: 4 copies of each card other than basic lands.
      • Legal Sets: The most current "block," the prior "block," the current "core set," and, for about 3 months every year until the next block is released, the prior "core set." A "block" is generally three consecutive sets released within one year with a shared setting, style and storyline, and a core set is a set released annually with a more generic storyline, meant more for beginners. Earlier versions of currently legal cards (the newer ones denoted as "reprints") and any Promo versions of currently-legal cards are also legal, as long as they are either white or black bordered and have a proper Magic: The Gathering back.
      • Banned Cards: Currently none. Banning cards in Standard is rare, but not unheard of.
  • Block - (Constructed)
    • Playstyle: 1-on-1
    • Starting Life: 20
    • Deck Construction: Prior to play
      • Deck Size: Minimum of 60
      • Card Copy Limit: 4 copies of each card other than basic lands.
      • Legal Sets: The designated block.
      • Banned Cards: Varies depending on the block. Current list.
  • Extended (Type 1.X) - (Constructed)
    • Playstyle: 1-on-1
    • Starting Life: 20
    • Deck Construction: Prior to play
      • Deck Size: Minimum of 60
      • Card Copy Limit: 4 copies of each card other than basic lands.
      • Legal Sets: The blocks and core sets published in the past four years.
      • Banned Cards: Current list. (Note: As of October 2013, Extended is no longer a sanctioned format.)
  • Modern - (Constructed)
    • Playstyle: 1-on-1
    • Starting Life: 20
    • Deck Construction: Prior to play
      • Deck Size: Minimum of 60
      • Card Copy Limit: 4 copies of each card other than basic lands.
      • Legal Sets: All core sets and expansion block sets from 8th Edition onward. (Cards only reprinted or introduced in other supplements, like Commander and Planechase 2012, aren't allowed in Modern.)
      • Banned Cards: Current list.
  • Legacy (Type 1.5) - (Eternal)
    • Playstyle: 1-on-1
    • Starting Life: 20
    • Deck Construction: Prior to play
      • Deck Size: Minimum of 60
      • Card Copy Limit: 4 copies of each card other than Basic Lands.
      • Legal Sets: All sets and promo cards printed with white or black borders and a proper Magic: The Gathering back.
      • Banned Cards: Current list.
  • Vintage (Type 1) - (Eternal)
    • Playstyle: 1-on-1
    • Starting Life: 20
    • Deck Construction: Prior to play
      • Deck Size: Minimum of 60
      • Card Copy Limit: 4 copies of each card other than Basic Lands; some cards, denoted as "Restricted" are only allowed 1 copy each.
      • Legal Sets: All sets and promo cards printed with white or black borders and a proper Magic: The Gathering back. Many "Non-Sanctioned" tournaments also usually allow a specific number of "Proxy" cards - cards that are used to take the place of other cards in a deck (i.e., saying the single Forest in your White deck is a Black Lotus).
      • Banned Cards: 25 cards, all which reference either a) anteing cards, b) flipping the cards themselves and interacting with the cards they touch when they land, c) "subgames" of Magic which have been historically used to drag the games out to time and force a draw, or d) are Conspiracies, which were made for a specific draft format and do not go into decks. There is also a list of "restricted" cards, limited to 1 copy per deck and sideboard combined. Current list.
  • Draft - (Limited)
    • Playstyle: 1-on-1
    • Starting Life: 20
    • Deck Construction: During play - tournaments begin with players in "Pods" of typically 4 to 8 players, each with 3 packs of cards. Each player simultaneously opens one of their three packs removes the "filler" card (either a rules insert or token), chooses a single card from the pack, and passes it to the player to their left. All cards are chosen this way until the packs have been completely passed, then repeated for the next pack but passing to the player to the right, and then again for the third player, again passing to the left. All players are left with 45 cards, and must construct a deck with only those cards and any Basic Lands they choose before the matches begin.
      • Deck Size: 40 cards
      • Card Copy Limit: Unlimited for any card, as long as you have drafted them (i.e. you may have 6 copies of a card, as long as you chose all 6 of those copies during the actual drafting)
      • Legal Sets: Any sets featured in the Draft. Usually the current Block, the most recent Set, or the most recent Core Set, depending on the tournament specifics.
      • Banned Cards: No Banned cards in Draft play.
  • Sealed - (Limited)
    • Playstyle: 1-on-1 or Two-Headed-Giant
    • Starting Life: 20 for 1v1; 30 for THG
    • Deck Construction: During play - Each player receives 6 packs of cards prior to the tournament. During preparation, all players open all packs they own and must construct a deck using only those 90 cards they opened, plus any number of basic lands.
      • Deck Size: 40 cards
      • Card Copy Limit: Unlimited; it is highly unlikely to have even 4 copies of any one card in only 6 packs, let alone more, but you are allowed any number if you do receive more than 4. In THG matches, however, you may share cards with your teammate, so it is more likely to have multiple copies of any one card.
      • Legal Sets: Any sets featured in the tournament. Usually the current block, the most recent set, or the most recent core set.
  • EDH / Elder Dragon Highlander / Commander - (Officially-Recognized Casual)
    • Playstyle: Typically either 3-to-6 Free-For-All, or 1-on-1, but can be anything the players decide.
    • Starting Life: 40
    • Deck Construction: prior to play
      • Deck Size: Exactly 99 cards in the deck plus 1 Legendary Creature, denoted as the "General/Commander".
      • Card Copy Limit: 1 copy of each card other than Basic Lands. No card may be of any color other than the colors of the General, may not contain any colored mana symbols not present on the General, and no lands (including basics) may be included that produce colored mana other than the colors of the General (for example - a Red and White General allows only cards that are Red, and/or White, and/or Colorless in nature, and/or include Red, White, or Colorless activated abilities or produce Red, White, or Colorless mana; you may have creatures that are purely Red, purely White, Colorless, or both Red and White together, but any creature that is Red, White, and Black is illegal, as are any cards - including Lands - which contain any colored mana symbols other than those found in your General's mana cost). Lands or abilities of permanents which say "Add one mana of any color to your mana pool," or variants thereof, are allowed, but can only provide mana of the same color(s) as your General (special note should be given to cards which say the physical word, instead of show the mana symbol - for example, if you have a card in a blue-only deck which says, word for word, "add 3 green mana to your mana pool" and it hasn't been errated to say "add GGG to your mana pool," it is allowed, but the provided mana will immediately become colorless).
      • Legal Sets: Any sets and promo cards which have White or Black Borders and proper Magic: The Gathering backs. Cards featuring Gold borders or are squared with non-standard Magic backs may also be allowed, depending on the play group, though rarely are cards with Silver borders (these are from the Un- Sets and are joke sets not typically meant for serious play, though some groups may make an exception if all cards in the deck besides basic lands are from the Un- Sets).
      • Banned Cards: Current list. These typically are cards which vastly upset the intended multiplayer nature of the format.
  • Pauper
    • Playstyle: 1-on-1
    • Starting Life: 20
    • Deck Construction: Prior to play
      • Deck Size: Minimum of 60
      • Card Copy Limit: 4 copies of each card other than basic lands.
      • Legal Sets: Any sets and promo cards which have White or Black Borders and proper Magic: The Gathering backs, as long as those cards have been printed at "common" rarity.
      • Banned Cards: Everything that has never been printed at common plus Cranial Plating (which is horrendously powerful for a common), Grapeshot (made storm combo too powerful), Empty the Warrens (same), Invigorate (Works too well with Infect), Frantic Search (which is just horrendously overpowered in general), and soon Temporal Fissure (Same as Grapeshot) and Cloudpost (Generated far too much mana without drawbacks when combined with free spells that untapped lands).
  • Momir Basic (Officially recognized Casual Format, but largely MTGO exclusive)
    • Playstyle: 1-on-1
    • Starting Life: 24
    • Deck Construction: Prior to play
      • Deck Size: Exactly 60.
      • Card Copy Limit: Any number of basic lands
      • Legal Cards: The five basic lands - Island, Swamp, Forest, Mountain, and Plains
      • Banned Cards: All other cards.
    • Unlike other formats, there is an additional mechanic in Momir Basic. Each player has the following ability: "{X}, discard a card from your hand: Put a random creature token onto the battlefield with converted mana cost X. Activate this ability only anytime you could cast a sorcery." Due to this randomness, most games of Momir are played online. (It's called Momir Basic, because the ability is one of the Momir Vig Vanguard avatar online.)
  • Cube - (Semi-Officially Recognized Casual - Subtype of Draft)
    • Playstyle: 1-on-1
    • Starting Life: 20
    • Deck Construction: Prior To and During play - a Cube typically consists of around 400 to 1000 cards, plus however many Basic Lands the Cube owner chooses to include for construction purposes. All players in the Cube each take 45 random cards from the Cube and set them aside as 15 cards "packs." They then proceed to follow standard Draft rules and build a Deck in the same manner. The intent of this playstyle is to mimic "Deckbuilding" games with Magic cards (which has itself been refined to be an excellent Deckbuilding game due to the attention the developers have given to Limited play), as well as play Drafts without the need to constantly buy 3 packs per player to do so (which, at $3.99 MSRP gets expensive very quickly).
      • Deck Size: 40 cards
      • Card Copy Limit: Same as in a Draft, though Cube owners often include only 1 copy of each card in their Cube.
      • Legal Sets: Whatever cards a player chooses to included in their Cube; because Cubes are built by individuals, they often follow a theme or basic premise, such as a "Legacy Cube," "Ravnica Cube," "Bad-Cards-Only Cube," "Mono-Red Cube," etc.
      • Banned Cards: None by the nature of Cube - players just won't include cards in their Cube that they don't like.
    • A quick note: While not "Officially Sanctioned Casual" such as EDH or Momir Basic, it has been recognized by Wizards of the Coast to the point that Cube exists as a format on MTGO, and the 2014 non-Standard set, Conspiracy, was created partially with Cube in mind.
  • Planechase - (Officially Recognized Casual)
    • Playstyle: Typically multiplayer in some way or another.
    • Starting Life: Varies (see below)
    • Deck Construction: Varies (see below)
      • Deck Size: Minimum 15 Plane cards for the Planar Deck(s).
      • Card Copy Limit: Typically only 1 copy of each Plane and Phenomenon card per Planar Deck.
      • Legal Sets: Any and all Planes and Phenomenon printed by Wizards of the Coast
      • Banned Cards: Varies (see below)
    • Planechase is, itself, not a full "Format," but rather a variant added to other formats (often EDH, due to the intended multiplayer nature of both). It uses unique Plane and Phenomenon cards and has specific rules for how those cards are accessed and how they affect the game:
      • Wizards' original intent was for each player in a Planechase game to have their own Planar Deck of 15 Plane cards that they customized to suit and support their personal strategy. This was immediately ignored by the players themselves, who chose to follow a more-intuitive, and less-expensive, method of play, whereby all players use a single, communal Planar Deck instead.note  While Wizards has never publicly stated either denouncement or endorsement of this player-driven change, subsequent support products for Planechase hint that they realized how people were REALLY playing it, and just went with it, design-wise.
      • In a Planechase Game, as said before, players sit around a communal Planar Deck. After deciding who goes first, the Planar Deck is shuffled and the first Plane card is flipped over.
      • Most cards in a Planar Deck are Planes cards: cards which have a (generally) universal effect, as well as a secondary "Chaos" effect (which is only triggered when a player rolls "Chaos"). When players Planeswalk from one Plane to the next, the current Plane is put into a Discard pile, usually face-down to not confuse things, and replaced with the new Plane. Planes aren't Permanents and can't be targeted by anything, similar to Emblems, though like emblems they are Sources and as such can be effected by cards like Leyline of Sanctity.
      • Another type of card, introduced later, is Phenomenon - an anomalous event that occurs when the players are planeswalking from one Plane to another; when players encounter these by revealing them from the top of the Planar Deck, they resolve all the effects of that Phenomenon, discard it, and then reveal the next card in the Planar Deck (it is quite possible to have two Phenomenon be chained together in this way). Phenomenon are like Instants and Sorceries - they are one-and-done, though several have persisting effects, such as having TWO active Planes cards instead of just one (they aren't spells, however, and cannot be countered or targeted in any way).
      • During each player's turn, whenever they have Priority and the Stack is empty, the Turn Player may choose to roll the Planar Die any number of times; the first time costs 0 mana, with each subsequent roll costing an additional 1 mana. The Planar Die is a d6 with 4 blank faces, 1 "Chaos" face, and 1 "Planeswalk" face.
      • If a player rolls "Planeswalk,"note , the current Plane is discarded, and the top card of the Planar Deck is flipped face-up; if the card revealed is a Plane, that card becomes the new Plane the players are currently on, but if it's a Phenomenon, its effects are fully resolved, then the Phenomenon is discarded, and the top card of the Planar Deck revealed yet again (this process repeats until a Plane is revealed).
      • Whenever a player rolls "Chaos,"note  the "Chaos" effect of the current Plane is triggered. Some Chaos effects are fairly benign; others can cause table-flipping from nearly every player present.
      • If the game goes on for so long that all Planes in the Planar Deck are used up, the discards are shuffled and set back in the Planar Deck for the insanity to begin anew.

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