Friday Night Magic (Part 2)

The last time I talked about Magic: The Gathering I realized that I ended up writing a novel about how much I enjoy it, but didn’t give much insight into how you play.  So, since it’s 1:46am and I can’t sleep here you go – the quick 5-minute read on how you play Magic.  It’s really one of those games that’s easy to learn but difficult to master.  That’s part of the allure to me – you can pick it up immediately (at the core it’s how much damage can I do to my opponent) and games are short with very little setup required, but with every new set and every card combination there are different nuances that make even the most experienced players susceptible to falling prey to .  And there’s also the element of risk – you don’t know (generally, although some cards will give you that ability) what card you’ll draw next from your library, so you have to decide whether it’s worth the risk to wait or to make your move now.

Anyhow, here’s a short run-through of a typical game:

  1. “Untap” your battlefield.  When you tap a card you use it, so this step untaps everything you used last turn (or on your opponent’s turn) – basically you “ready” all the cards you’ve played that remain on the battlefield for your next move.  Tapped creatures can’t attack or block and tapped land can’t be used for mana, so at the beginning of your turn you want to make sure you untap everything as appropriate.
  2. Draw a card.  Except for the first player’s first turn you have to do this (if you’re the first player to go during a game you don’t draw a card that turn).
  3. Play land.  Land is your source for mana, and each of the five different colors (red, green, blue, black, white) provides you a different type of mana.  You can only play one land per turn, and you can only cast spells that you have the appropriate color of mana for as denoted on the card (top right).
  4. Main phase.  This is where you’ll put down creatures, cast sorcery spells or put enchantments down.  When you play cards on the battlefield you tap the appropriate mana (your lands).  So, for instance, if you wanted to cast the beauty on the right (Beguiler of Wills – a very nice card to have in your arsenal if your deck is blue) you’d need at least two untapped islands (blue lands) as denoted by the two blue water drop icons and three untapped lands of any color (that’s the three in the grey circle).  So you couldn’t play her on your second turn (because you could only have two mana down at that point).  To tap your lands you simply turn them sideways and play the card you cast.
  5. Battle.  This is where you send your creatures to attack your opponent.  You can only do this once per turn, and you have to “declare” all attackers up-front.  Your opponent can choose to block or not, and decides which of his/her creatures will block (if any).  During this phase (or any time during your turn or your opponent’s) you can play any of your “Instant” cards that you have in your hand to buff up your creatures (or debilitate your opponents’ creatures or whatever the particular card does) assuming you have the mana to do so.  Any creatures you attack with that aren’t blocked or killed do damage to your opponent.  So if you attacked with Immerwolf on the right (who costs one red mana, one green mana, and then one additional mana of any color to cast) and your opponent didn’t block it you would do 2 damage to your opponent.
  6. Main phase, revisited.  If you have mana remaining you can put down new creatures, cast other spells, etc., or you can save whatever mana you have left and do nothing.
  7. “Cleanup”.  Some spells are only good until the end of your turn; some effects wear off at this point (and some are permanent).  For those that expire at your end step this is where you handle all that cleanup.

As you can imagine it can be much more intricate than that, but that’s the general gist.  Once you play a few hands you’ll get the hang of it.  You repeat those steps, taking turns with your opponent(s) (you can have more than one opponent) until someone loses.  You lose one of three ways:

  • You go down to zero life.
  • You get 10 poison “counters” (basically 10 points of damage with poison).
  • You run out of cards in your library.

Once one of those things happens the game is over.

That’s how easy it is.  But if it were that easy there wouldn’t be web sites and videos devoted to the strategies and tactics of deck building and playing.  But if you just want to play a game it really is that easy.

Where it gets complicated is in understanding what some of the cards can do.  For instance, take Wingcrafter on the left.  By himself he’s a cheap one-mana (a blue one – check out the blue water droplet in the upper-right corner) creature that you could cast on your first turn, giving you an advantage and some early damage on your opponent.  But if you “soulbond” him (read the text underneath “Creature – Human Wizard”) then suddenly he AND the other creature he’s paired with can fly.  That becomes key because if a flying creature attacks the only creatures that can block are those that are flying or those that have an ability called “reach”.  This 1/1 (one damage per hit, one health) card can kill even the strongest opponent if they can’t block creatures with flying.

Complicated?  It can be, but the way the cards are set up for the most part all you have to do is read.  Take the Bloodcrazed Neonate over there on the right (with a cost of one red mana – that’s the fireball-looking icon – and one any color mana).  When you put her on the battlefield she’s a 2/1 (two damage per attack, one health).  Every turn of your’s she’s able to attack she has to (that’s the first line of text).  And if she attacks and does damage to a player (so she doesn’t get blocked by your opponent) then you get to put a +1/+1 counter on her, which means the first time she does damage she gets stronger and becomes a 3/2 (three damage per attack, two health).  If she damages a player again she becomes a 4/3 and so on.  Immerwolf (that’s the wolf up there on the right, who costs one red mana, one green mana [the forest icon] and one any color mana) also has special abilities – only red or green creatures or those that are “colorless” can block it.  So if you’re up against an only-blue deck (where all the creatures and spells are blue mana-based) then none of your opponents creatures could block Immerwolf.  Kinda handy, eh?

The sheer possibilities of the creature combinations you could play is tremendous and you could probably write a dissertation on attacking and blocking strategies just looking at different color decks and creature sets.  But there’s more to it than just creatures – we’ll hit that in the final entry.

(post images courtesy of Wizards of the Coast – the geniuses supporting Magic)

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