Magic the Gathering

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Magic: The Gathering (MTG; also known as Magic)

is a trading card game created by Richard Garfield.

First published in 1993 by Wizards of the Coast, Magic was the first trading card game produced and it continues to thrive, with approximately twelve million players as of 2011.  Magic can be played by two or more players each using a deck of 60+ printed cards or a deck of virtual cards through the Internet-based Magic: The Gathering Online or other programs.

Each game represents a battle between wizards known as “planeswalkers”, who employ spells, artifacts, and creatures depicted on individual Magic cards to defeat their opponents. Although the original concept of the game drew heavily from the motifs of traditional fantasy role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons, the gameplay of Magic bears little similarity to pencil-and-paper adventure games, while having substantially more cards and more complex rules than many other card games.

An organized tournament system and a community of professional Magic players has developed, as has a secondary market for Magic cards. Magic cards can be valuable due to their rarity and utility in gameplay. Often the prices of a single card can be anywhere from a few cents to a few hundred dollars, and in some instances thousands of dollars.



In a game of Magic, two or more players are engaged in a battle as powerful wizards called “planeswalkers”. A player starts the game with twenty “life points” and loses when he or she is reduced to zero. Players lose life when they are dealt “damage” by being attacked with summoned creatures or when spells or other cards cause them to lose life directly. A player can also lose if he or she must draw from an empty deck (called the “library” during the game). In addition, some cards specify other ways to win or lose the game.[38]

Some cards have effects that override normal game rules. Garfield has stated that two major influences in his creation of Magic: the Gathering were the games Cosmic Encounter,[39] which first used the concept that normal rules could sometimes be overridden, andDungeons & Dragons. The “Golden Rules of Magic” state that “Whenever a card’s text directly contradicts the rules, the card takes precedence.”[40] This allows Wizards of the Coast great flexibility in creating cards, but can cause problems when attempting to reconcile a card with the rules (or two cards with each other). The Comprehensive Rules, a detailed rulebook, exists to clarify these conflicts.[41]

Players begin the game by shuffling their decks and then drawing seven cards.[42] Players draw one card at the beginning of each of their turns, except the first player on their first turn. Players alternate turns consisting of several phases. Most cards can only be played during the main phase of the player’s own turn. The player whose turn it is always has the first chance to play cards. At the end of a player’s turn, if that player has more than seven cards in hand, the player discards until their hand contains seven cards. The contents of other players’ decks and hands are not usually known to players.

The two basic kinds of cards in Magic are “spells” and “lands”. Lands provide “mana“, or magical energy, which is used as magical fuel when the player attempts to cast spells. Players may only play one land per turn. More powerful spells cost more mana, so as the game progresses more mana becomes available, and the quantity and relative power of the spells played tends to increase. Some spells also require the payment of additional resources, such as cards in play or life points. Spells come in several varieties: “sorceries” and “instants” have a single, one-time effect before they go to the “graveyard” (discard pile); “enchantments” and “artifacts” are “permanents” that remain in play after being cast to provide a lasting magical effect; “creature” spells (also a type of permanent) summon creatures that can attack and damage an opponent. The set Lorwyn introduced the new “planeswalker” card type, which represent powerful allies who fight with their own magic abilities depending on their loyalty to the player who summoned them. Spells can be of more than one type.[43]

Deck construction

Each player needs a deck to play a game of Magic. In most tournament formats, decks are required to be a minimum of sixty cards, with no upper limit.[44] Players may use no more than four copies of any named card, with the exception of “basic lands”, which act as a standard resource in Magic, and some specific cards that state otherwise.[45] In “limited” tournament formats, where a small number of cards are opened for play from booster packs or tournament packs, a minimum deck size of forty cards is used. Depending on the type of play, some cards have been “restricted” (the card is limited to a single copy per deck) or “banned” (the card is no longer legal for tournament play).[46] These limitations are usually for balance of power reasons, but have been occasionally made because of gameplay mechanics.[47]

Deck building requires a lot of strategy as players must choose among thousands of cards which they want to play. This requires players to evaluate the power of their cards, as well as the possible synergies between them, and their possible interactions with the cards they expect to play against (this “metagame” can vary in different locations or time periods).[48] The choice of cards is usually narrowed by the player deciding which colors they want to include in the deck. This decision is a key part of creating a deck. In general, reducing the number of colors used increases the consistency of play and the probability of drawing the lands needed to cast one’s spells, at the expense of restricting the range of tactics available to the player.[49]

Psychographic profiles

Despite all the different cards and ways to put decks together based on those, players can be divided into three “psychographic profiles”, or reasons and methods of playing, with blends being quite common.[50] Mark Rosewater originally came up with these as a way of defining the personalities of players.[51][52][53]

  • Timmy: Timmy is the player who wants to experience the game for what it is, not necessarily just to win, often playing with big creatures and spells in a straightforward style.[51] As a result, many Timmies are considered to be young and inexperienced, but this isn’t necessarily true.[54]
  • Johnny: Johnny is the player who enjoys the interactions between the cards.[51] His deck is often an expression of himself, and deckbuilding is often more important than the actual gameplay.[54]
  • Spike: Spike is the player who wants to win no matter what.[51] He tends to play to prove how good he is at Magic[54] and is generally the most competitive of the three.[51]

In addition, there are two “card appreciators” who can be classified as psychographic profiles: Vorthos and Melvin.[55] These two aren’t exclusive of each other, in fact, they’re simply the extreme ends of a similar spectrum to the Timmy/Johnny/Spike one above.[54][56] Vorthos is the person (not necessarily player) who enjoys the story surrounding the cards, and will often pick apart the art and flavor.[55] Melvin, on the other hand, enjoys the mechanics of the cards and how they operate.[52][56]

Colors of Magic

“The five colors of Magic: The Gathering

Most spells come in one of five colors.[57] The colors can be seen on the back of the cards, in a pentagonal design, called the “Color Wheel” or “Color Pie”. Clockwise from the top, they are: white, blue, black, red, and green, respectively abbreviated WUBRG (often pronounced “woo-berg” by players and designers). (“U” for “blue” comes from the fact that the mana symbols were typeset by their initials, and “B” was used for black. These same letter codes were used when Wizards released official card lists.)[58] To play a spell of a given color, at least one mana of that color is required. This mana is normally generated by a basic land: plains for white, island for blue, swamp for black, mountain for red, and forest for green. The balances and distinctions among the five colors form one of the defining aspects of the game. Each color has strengths and weaknesses based on the “style” of magic it represents.[59]

  • White is the color of order, equality, righteousness, healing, law, community, peace, absolutism/totalitarianism, and light. White’s strengths are a roster of small creatures that are strong collectively; protecting those creatures with enchantments; gaining life; preventing damage to creatures or players; imposing restrictions on players; reducing the capabilities of opposing creatures, and powerful spells that “equalize” the playing field by destroying all cards of a given type. White creatures are known for their “Protection” from various other colors or even types of card, rendering them nearly impervious to harm from those things. Numerous white creatures also have “First Strike“, “Lifelink“, and “Vigilance“. White’s weaknesses include a focus on creatures, its unwillingness to simply kill creatures outright (instead hobbling them with restrictions that can be undone), and the fact that many of its most powerful spells affect all players equally—including the casting player.[59][verification needed]
  • Blue is the color of intellect, reason, illusion, logic, knowledge, manipulation, and trickery, as well as the classical elements of air and water. Blue’s cards are best at letting a player draw additional cards; permanently taking control of an opponent’s cards; returning cards to their owner’s hand; making cards go directly from a player’s deck to their graveyard; and countering spells, causing them to be discarded and the mana used to pay them wasted. Blue’s creatures tend to be weaker than creatures of other colors, but commonly have abilities and traits which make them difficult to damage or block, particularly “Flying” and to a lesser extent “Shroud” or “Hexproof“. Blue’s weaknesses include having trouble permanently dealing with spells that have already been played, the reactive nature of most of its spells, and a small (and expensive) roster of creatures.[59][verification needed]
  • Black is the color of power, ambition, greed, death, illness, corruption, selfishness, amorality, and sacrifice; it is not necessarily evil, though many of its cards refer directly or indirectly to this concept. Black cards are best at destroying creatures, forcing players to discard cards from their hand, making players lose life, and returning creatures from the players’ graveyards. Furthermore, because Black seeks to win at all costs, it has limited access to many abilities or effects that are normally available only to one of the other colors; but these abilities often require large sacrifices of life totals, creatures, cards in hand, cards in library, and other difficult-to-replace resources. Black is known for having creatures with the ability “Intimidate“, making them difficult to block. Lesser black abilities include “Deathtouch” and “Regeneration“.[59][verification needed] Black’s main weaknesses are an almost complete inability to deal with enchantments and artifacts, its tendency to hurt itself almost as badly as it hurts the opponent, and difficulties in removing other Black creatures.[60]
  • Red is the color of freedom, chaos, passion, creativity, impulse, fury, warfare, lightning, the classical element of fire, and the non-living geological aspects of the classical element earth.[61] Red’s strengths include destroying opposing lands and artifacts, sacrificing permanent resources for temporary but great power, and playing spells that deal “direct damage” to creatures or players, usually via applications of fire. Red has a wide array of creatures, but with the exception of extremely powerful dragons, most are fast and weak, or with low toughness, rendering them easier to destroy. Some of Red’s cards can turn against or hurt their owner in return for being more powerful for their cost. Red also shares the trickery theme with Blue and can temporarily steal opponents’ creatures or divert spells, although generally not permanently. Many of Red’s most famous creatures have the “Haste” trait, which lets them attack and use many abilities as soon as they enter the battlefield. The ability to raise a creature’s power temporarily is also common among Red’s creatures. Red’s weaknesses include its inability to destroy enchantments, the self-destructive nature of many of its spells, and the way in which it trades early-game speed at the cost of late-game staying power. Red also has the vast majority of cards that involve random chance.[59][verification needed]
  • Green is the color of life, nature, reality, evolution/adaptability, ecology, interdependence, instinct, and indulgence. Green’s strengths are on the battlefield, usually winning through combat with creatures, of which it has a broad menagerie. These tend to be strong for their cost and have abilities that make them more survivable like Regenerate and Hexproof. Green creatures also often have “Trample“, an ability which allows them to deal attack damage to an opponent if blocked by a weaker creature. Many Green spells bolster its creatures’ power, either permanently or temporarily. Green spells often focus on growth, such as regaining life points, amassing large quantities of green mana, and getting land cards faster, thus allowing the player more resources and the capacity to get strong creatures on the battlefield faster. Green’s weakness is an inability to defend against indirect attacks. It has few cards that allow it to counterattack against the hand, library, or graveyard; Green also has few defenses against creatures that bypass its own powerful creatures when attacking, via abilities like Landwalk or Intimidate. However, some Green cards can be reliable as a counter against Flying creatures and spells.[59][verification needed]

The colors adjacent to each other on the pentagon are “allied” and often have similar, complementary abilities. For example, Blue has a relatively large number of flying creatures, as do White and Black, which are next to it. The two non-adjacent colors to a particular color are “enemy” colors, and are thematically opposed. For instance, Red tends to be very aggressive, while White and Blue are often more defensive in nature. The Research and Development (R&D) team at Wizards of the Coast aims to balance power and abilities among the five colors by using the “Color Pie” to differentiate the strengths and weaknesses of each.[62] This guideline lays out the capabilities, themes, and mechanics of each color and allows for every color to have its own distinct attributes and gameplay. The Color Pie is used to ensure new cards are thematically in the correct color and do not infringe on the territory of other colors.

  • Multi-color cards were introduced in the Legends set and typically use a gold frame to distinguish them from mono-color cards. These cards require mana from two or more different colors to be played and count as belonging to each of the colors used to play them. Multi-color cards typically combine the philosophy and mechanics of all the colors used in the spell’s cost, and tend to be proportionally more powerful compared to single-color or hybrid cards, as requiring multiple colors of mana makes them harder to cast. More recently, two-color “hybrid” cards were introduced in the Ravnica set, and appeared extensively throughout the Shadowmoor and Eventide sets. Hybrid cards are distinguished by a gradient frame with those two colors, and can be paid with either of the card’s colors; for instance, a card with two hybrid-red/white icons can be cast using two red mana, two white mana, or one of each. Several sets have made multi-colored cards a theme, including Shards of Alara, both Ravnica blocks and others. Core sets do not typically include multi-color cards in them, although the Core 2013 set was the first to do so.
  • Colorless cards belong to no color, and most often appear in the form of Lands and Artifacts. Unlike the five colors, Colorless cards do not have a specific personality or style of play. Sometimes, colorless cards will imitate the mechanics of a particular color, though in a less-efficient manner than a similar colored card. Often colorless cards are linked to one or more colors via their abilities, through story references, or through flavor text on the cards themselves. With the Rise of the Eldrazi expansion, however, colorless cards that are neither artifacts nor lands have been introduced for the first time in larger quantities.