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Magic: The Gathering

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Magic: The Gathering (a.k.a MTG)® , created by Richard Garfield of Wizards of the Coast, Inc., was the first collectible card game, introduced in 1993. Though the game draws heavily from traditional role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons for its fantasy motifs, the rules bear little resemblance to pencil-and-paper campaign rules; there is only minimal role-playing in typical play. Games usually finish in well under an hour (compared to many hours, typically spread over a number of sessions, for traditional role-playing games). An online version exists.

Role-players were enthusiastic early fans of Magic, but the game achieved much wider popularity. The commercial success of the game prompted a wave of similar games in the 1990s, most notably a game based on the Pokémon characters.

Table of contents

Game play

In Magic, two or sometimes more players play the roles of so-called planeswalkers engaging in a magical duel to the death. Every player has a number of life points; once these reach zero (depleted by damage) he or she dies. In addition, if one's library, or deck, is empty when one needs to draw a card, that player loses. The last surviving player wins.

Players fight each other by playing (casting) spells from their hand. To cast a spell one needs mana, magical energy, which is generated by special land cards. There are thousands of different spell cards, which come from collectible sets (hence the term collectible card game or trading card game). The main types of spells are:

  • Creatures: summon a creature that can attack the other player or be used for defense. The creature remains in play until killed.
  • Enchantments: modify a single other card (creature, land, etc.) or the entire play environment. Enchantments persist until destroyed.
  • Artifacts: create an object that remains in play until destroyed. Artifacts may have continuous effects like enchantments or may only take effect when activated by their owner.
  • Sorceries: generate one-shot effects, such as dealing several points of damage or killing all creatures.
  • Instants: generate one-shot effects, such as dealing a small amount of damage or killing a specific creature. These differ from sorceries in that the scope of the effect is usually smaller, but there are fewer time restrictions on when these may be cast. Some older cards are of the type interrupt, however now they are all instants.

In detail, casting works like this: the player taps (by turning sideways) a number of land cards. Typical lands produce mana of a particular type or color. In fact, there are what are known as basic lands, and each produces its specific color of mana. Islands generate one blue mana, Swamps one black mana, Plains one white mana, Mountains one red mana, Forests one green mana. This mana is added to the player's mana pool. Then the player plays the spell card from his or her hand, designating any targets the spell may have. The pooled mana must match the cost requirements of the spell -- for example Dirtwater Wraith needs one black mana and three additional mana of unspecified color to cast successfully. The player loses one point for each mana left in the mana pool after the spell is cast. This is known as mana burn. An important rule to keep in mind is that tapping for mana is considered to be faster than any other effect in the game. Therefore, if an opponent plays a spell destroying a mana source, a player can tap that source for mana before it is destroyed.

The general rule for spell cards is that once cast the effects (one-shot or permanent) on the card happen. Some spells have effects that override normal game rules (for example allow you to hold more than seven cards in your hand). Spell effects may contradict each other, and it is one of the more difficult aspects of gameplay to resolve these conflicts. A detailed and thorough rulebook exists to clarify conflicts.

Each player has a library where cards from the deck that have not yet been drawn are kept; a hand containing up to seven cards not in play; an area on the table for his or her lands, creatures, etc. that are in play; and a graveyard where spent spells or destroyed permanent cards are discarded. Players may never look into the libraries and may see their own hands only, but may view all the other cards on the table without restriction.

Game play is turn-based. During a turn, the active player draws one card, plays at most one land from his or her hand, casts as many spells the player wants and can afford (with mana), and may attack one other player with one or more creatures. An attacked player may declare some of her or his creatures as blockers. Blocked attacking creatures deal damage to their blockers and are in turn damaged by them. A creature that amasses more than a specific number of damage points (its toughness) in one round (complete cycle of turns) dies and goes to its owner's graveyard. Unblocked attackers deal damage to the player they attacked, reducing that player's life points. Damaged creatures that do not die return to full strength (heal) at the end of the turn. This is not true of players.

There are restrictions on when spells and lands may be played. Instants and interrupts may be played during another player's turn and during combat. Other spells and lands are only playable before or after combat in one's own turn.

Deck Building

Preparation for a game takes place far in advance of actual play. Beginners may start out owning only a starter pack of sixty cards -- which is also the normal deck size and can serve as a first deck. Usually though, more and more cards are collected and traded so that serious players have a large trove of cards from which they have to select sixty (normally) for their next deck. Due to the many possibilities, two players never enter duels with the same decks (unless they both used the same reference).

Building a deck is mainly about balancing various aspects.

First, you should be aware of the principal probabilities involved. Decks must contain sixty cards minimum, except when playing certain formats. For the sake of simplicity, we will assume a sixty-card minimum requirement for this discussion. Larger decks are possible, but usually will not buy you much except unreliability (imagine that one useful card being buried in a library of 40, 80, or 100 cards). One normally cycles through the deck one card per turn.

Most spells have a color, which means that they require a number of mana points of a specific color to cast (they may require additional mana of unspecified color as well). Some spells (mostly artifacts) need only colorless mana, or mana not of any particular color; very few spells require more than one color. Normally, land will produce a single color of mana; most lands that produce more than one color have drawbacks. These two facts immediately lead to the prime rule of deck building:

Balance mana sources (lands) and sinks (spells). Having a lot of black spells but few or no swamps will do you no good. More generally, there needs to be enough land to support your spells. Since land can be reused a rule of thumb is to include one (suitable) land per two spells.

When using all five colors it is quite probable that the player will end up with lands of two colors, and a hand filled with spells of the other three colors, and thus be unable to cast anything. Therefore, it is recommended to restrict one's deck to a smaller number of colors -- for example only including Island and Swamps, as well as only black and blue spells. Relying on only one color may be unwise, though, as there are cards that take effect on a whole color which could render one completely powerless.

Card sets

Wizards of the Coast releases Magic cards in base sets and expansions. Base sets typically contain more than 300 cards. Expansion sets are usually smaller than 200 cards and are printed in limited supply. They expand the game by adding new cards.

There have been numerous base sets and expansions:

Base sets:
  • Alpha (1993)
  • Beta (1993)
  • Unlimited (1993)
  • Revised (1994)
  • Fourth Edition (1995)
  • Fifth Ed. (1997)
  • Sixth Ed. (or "Classic") (1999)
  • Seventh Ed. (2001)
  • Eighth Ed. (Not Released Yet)
* Arabian Nights (1994)|
* Antiquities (1994)   |
* Legends (1994)       |First Block
* The Dark (1994)      |
* Fallen Empires (1994)|
* Ice Age (1995)  |
* Homelands (1995)|Ice Age Block
* Alliances (1996)|

* Mirage (1996)      |
* Visions (1997)     |Mirage Block
* Weatherlight (1997)|

* Tempest (1997)   |
* Stronghold (1998)|Tempest Block
* Exodus (1998)    |

* Unglued (1998, not legal in DCI tournament play)

* Urza's Saga (1998)   |
* Urza's Legacy (1999) |Urza Block
* Urza's Destiny (1999)|

* Mercadian Masques (1999)|
* Nemesis (2000)          |Masques Block
* Prophecy (2000)         |

* Invasion (2000)  |
* Planeshift (2001)|Invasion Block
* Apocalypse (2001)|

* Odyssey (2001) |
* Torment (2002) |Odyssey
* Judgment (2002)|

* Onslaught (2002)              |
* Legions (2003, Creatures Only)|Onslaught Block
* Scourge (2003)                |
An expansion-sized set called Chronicles, released in 1995, reprinted many previous cards that were becoming difficult to obtain but added no new cards to the game.

Tournament Play Magic: the Gathering has grown a lot since it was first introduced in 1993 and a large culture has developed around the game. Magic tournaments are arranged almost every weekend in gaming stores. Larger tournaments with hundreds of competitors from around the globe sponsored by Wizards of the Coast are arranged many times every year. Large sums of money are paid out to those players who place the best in the tournament, and the winner receives sums upward of $30,000.

All Magic players who play in competitive tournaments become members of the DCI. The DCI is responsible for keeping track of how well players are doing compared to all the other Magic players in the world using the Elo rating system. A high DCI rating is the most reliable sign of an excellent Magic player. In addition, the DCI provides the materials for the training of competent judges for the events.

Tournaments are divided into two types: constructed and limited. Constructed tournaments are tournaments in which a player comes with a pre-constructed deck, built according to the restrictions of the DCI and the tournament type. (Currently, constructed tournaments are either Type 1, which permits the use of cards from virtually any Magic set, with the exception of those on the Banned list which may not be used and the Restricted list of which only one may be used per deck; Type 1.5, which bans both cards on the Type 1 Banned and Restricted lists but may come from almost every set as well; Extended, which uses cards from 'Sixth Edition' and 'Tempest' sets on; Type 2 or Standard, which uses 'Seventh Edition' and 'Odyssey' sets on; and block constructed, which may only use cards from that block of three sets). Decks must consist of no fewer than 60 cards, no more than 4 of any card save basic lands, no more than 1 of any card on the Restricted list, and none of the cards from the Banned list. Also, a 15 card sideboard is permitted, from which a player may tweak his/her deck to better deal with a particular opponent.

Limited tournaments are based on a limited card pool. Three main types of limited tournaments are sealed deck, where players receive a sealed tournament pack of 75 cards, thirty of which are basic lands, and two booster packs of 15 cards; Rochester draft, where players each receive three booster packs of 15 cards, each pack is opened, the cards are placed upon a table, and the players draft one card at a time until the pack is exhausted and the next player's pack is opened; and a booster draft, where each player opens one booster pack, selects a single card, then passes the rest to the next player over. In sealed deck tournaments, each player has 75 spells from which to build their deck; in drafts, 45 cards. The decks in limited tournaments only need be 40 cards, to allow for the limited flexibility of the decks, and in limited decks all the unused cards are the sideboard.

World Championship

The most prestigious tournament of all is the World Championship, where the best of the best play against each other until the world champion is crowned. World Championships are played over five days, and an invitation is required to be eligible for play. An invitation is obtained either by placing very high in a National Championship, or having a high enough DCI ranking.

Pro Tour

Multiple Pro Tours[?] are run every year around the world. The locations vary each year, and these are large events with myriad side tournaments. They are also invitation-only events. Before the Pro Tour, a large number of Pro Tour Qualifiers are held, where invitations are handed out to the winners; players who have played in enough previous Pro Tour events also receive invitations. Winning a Pro Tour is every competitive Magic player's dream.

Grand Prix

Grand Prix[?] tournaments are open to everyone, both amateurs and professionals. The payout isn't as big as for a Pro Tour and winning a Grand Prix is not as prestigious. But, they still attract international competition. Grand Prix tournaments are also held both in the United States and in other countries. Some recent Grand Prix events have been in: New Orleans, Los Angeles, Brussels, Yokohama, Taipei, Utrecht, and other diverse cities. Many players enjoy traveling to Grand Prix tournaments simply to travel and to see the sights around the world.

Other tournaments

Many stores that sell Magic hold at least a tournament once every week; large ones may hold as many as twelve. They are mostly for amateurs and is a good place to start your Magic-playing career.

The largest tournaments that a player not willing or able to travel can attend are Pre-Release tournaments, where a new expansion, or set, is released to the public in the best way possible: by playing it. This provides the most level playing field, as the cards have not been seen before by any of the players and the prizes are often very large, such as boxes of cards for the winners.

Apart from creating a new game genre, Magic also has an accompanying magazine, a number of local, state, regional, national and international championships, and line of fiction novels set in Magic's world.

Magic Online

Magic Online through E-League.Com


Magic can be played online free of charge through http://www.e-league.com/. The software used is a popular shareware program called Apprentice which, though not sanctioned by the DCI nor by Wizards of the Coast, is tolerated by them even with the existence of official online play software. E-league has its own ranking system and player base and, before the release of Magic Online, was the only way of playing the game online.

Wizards of the Coast Magic Online


Wizards of the Coast Magic Online allows playing MtG online against other people. It recreates Magic: The Gathering play closely, enforcing an extensive and actively updated knowledge of the game rules, provision for social and card trading interactions, visual presentation of the cards identical to the physical cards, and near-parallel release of new card sets as both physical and online cards.

Magic Online has no charge for time online or per game played. Instead, the online cards must be purchased. Prices for online cards are comparable to prices for physical cards, at least in the United States. Purchased cards "reside" on game servers. The internet-wide accessibility and lack of the need to congregate with other players in a tournament setting provide an alternative comparable, and in some ways exceeding, playing with physical cards. Related Content

Trading Card Games[?] Wizards Of The Coast[?] The Story Of Magic: The Gathering External Links

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