Friday, April 17, 2020

A Beginner's Guide to Magic the Gathering and MTG Arena

Magic: The Gathering – How-To-Play and Magic Arena
by Alex

Welcome Magic Players and Magic Learners! These pages are intended to be an introduction and a jumping off point for learning more about the mechanics of Magic and the basics of using Magic Arena. But first of all; Welcome to the worlds of Magic: The Gathering! You play as a Planeswalker, a powerful wizard who travels to the infinite planes of the Multiverse, a vast variety of worlds just waiting for you to tap into their pools of mana, creatures, and powerful spells. No matter how you want to play Magic, there is most assuredly a deck that is right for you. It can seem a little daunting at first, but the more you play and practice at the game, the better you will be able to make sense of how all the cards work together. Remember: reading the card explains the card! Creatures not only attack and defend you from attacks, but can also have a wide variety of abilities. Always make sure that you know how the cards that you play affect the game. We’ve broken this guide into several parts; starting with a little bit of color philosophy and what it means to play that color in the game, followed by the different card types, and so on. If you have any questions about Magic in any capacity, please ask us on Labyrinth’s Facebook page or @LabyrinthDC on our Discord page; our team and our Magic Judges will be more than happy to assist you in your magical endeavors. 

Part One: Color Pie

  • White: Law, order, and structure. Coordinated armies of smaller creatures.
  • Blue: Trickery and manipulation. Controlling the battlefield and outsmarting opponents.
  • Black: Death, disease, and power at any cost. Summoning horrors and raising the dead.
  • Red: Destruction and reckless passion. Killing opponents as fast as possible with fire.
  • Green: Growth, life, and brute force. Big creatures and spells to make them even bigger.

Part Two: Card Types


  • Land: Play one per turn; tap to generate mana to pay for spells. There are five types of basic land, each of which produces a discreet color of mana. Plains produces white mana, Island for blue, Swamp for black, Mountain for red, and Forest for green. In addition, there are non-basic lands which may also have abilities, in addition to often being able to tap for multiple colors of mana.  
  • Creature: These are your primary method of dealing damage to your opponent. Creatures are able to both attack and defend. 
    • During the turn in which they are summoned (cast and brought to the battlefield), creatures are unable to do anything that requires them to be tapped, but they can be tapped by external effects.
    • When creatures attack, they should be turned sideways so as to represent that they have attacked and cannot block or use activated abilities that involve tapping until the beginning of your next turn.
    • Normally, creatures that attack on your turn cannot block during your opponent’s turn.
  • Artifact: Objects of magical artifice that provide useful benefits to the player and to creatures and other permanents that you control.
    • Equipment: Subset of artifacts that can become attached to a creature for a cost, giving a permanent boost in some fashion as long as the artifact is equipped.
  • Planeswalker: Representing temporary allies that the player may summon to aid them in battle, these cards enter the battlefield with a number of loyalty counters equal to the number on the bottom right of the card. When the Planeswalker loses all its loyalty, it is placed into the graveyard.
    • Loyalty is a resource that can be accumulated or spent, according to the cost of the abilities listed on the card. (Note: The “cost” of a Planeswalker ability can mean adding loyalty counters, as well as removing them.)
      • You cannot spend more loyalty counters than those which Planeswalker already possesses.
      • A player may choose to activate one of the abilities of each of their Planeswalkers, once per turn, during a main phase.
    • Creatures may choose to attack an opposing Planeswalker rather than their controller’s opponent. If they successfully do so, they remove a number of loyalty counters equal to their power from the Planeswalker.
    • Damage from spells or abilities that affect a Planeswalker will remove a number of loyalty counters, equal to the damage being done, from that Planeswalker. If a creature is dealt damage at least equal to its toughness, it is destroyed and is placed in the graveyard.
  • Enchantment: Mystical charms that remain on the battlefield and provide a continuous effect.
    • Aura: Subset of enchantments that must be attached to a creature or other permanent.


  • Instant: Can be cast at any time, even during another player’s turn. Has a one-time effect, after which it is placed in the graveyard.
  • Sorcery: Can only be cast during one of your own main phases. Has a one-time effect, after which it is placed in the graveyard.

Part Three: Parts of a Turn, Abbreviated

  • Untap 
  • Upkeep
  • Draw
  • Main Phase One (Pre-combat Main Phase)
    • Play a land, cast creatures and/or sorceries 
  • Combat
    • Beginning of Combat
    • Declare Attackers
    • Declare Blockers
    • Combat Damage
    • End of Combat
  • Main Phase Two (Post-combat Main Phase)
    • Play a land if you haven’t already, cast creatures and/or sorceries
  • Ending Phase
    • Cleanup Step - creatures heal
    • Pass turn to Opponent

Part Four: How to Read a Card

Name: Shivan Dragon

Converted Mana Cost (CMC): 6 total; 4 of any color and 2 Red Mana

Type Line: Creature - Dragon

Rules Text: Flying (This creature can’t be blocked except by creatures with flying or reach.) Activated Ability - Pay one Red Mana: Shivan Dragon gets +1/+0 until end of turn.

Power/Toughness: 5/5

Part Five: Anatomy of a Game and Turn Sequence Expanded

Starting a Game:
  1. Each player starts with 20 life points. First person to reduce their opponent’s life to 0 wins. Twenty-sided dice can be used to more easily track life totals; this can also be done with pen and paper.
  2. Randomly decide who goes first. Usually done by rolling a die, with the winner making the decision of playing first or drawing first.
  3. Each player shuffles their library and draws a hand of 7 cards. Generally, players are looking for a hand of 2-3 lands and 4-5 low-cost spells.
  4. Starting with the player going first, each player decides if they want to take a mulligan. If they choose to do so, they shuffle their hand back into their library and draw a new hand of seven; that player then chooses a number of cards in their hand equal to the number of mulligans they have taken, and places those cards on the bottom of their library in any order. Players may repeat the process until they are satisfied with their opening hands (This is called a London Mulligan).
Turn Sequence:
  1. Untap – Active player untaps their tapped cards, unless otherwise prevented from doing so. 
    1. Spells cannot be cast during the untap step.
  2. Upkeep – Any effects that are specifically noted to happen during upkeep occur.
  3. Draw – Active player draws a card from the top of their library.
    1. This does not happen on the first turn of the game.
  4. First Main Phase – The active player is permitted to play lands (one land per turn, unless otherwise permitted), summon creatures, and cast spells, if they choose.
  5. Combat Phase:
    1. Declare Attackers – Active player declares which of their creatures are attacking the defending player, if any, and taps said creatures.
    2. Declare Blockers – Defending player declares which of their untapped creatures are blocking specific attacking creatures, if any. Defending does not cause a creature to be tapped.
    3. Damage – All damage is assigned to all creatures and players simultaneously.
  6. Second Main Phase – The active player is permitted to play lands (one land per turn, unless otherwise permitted), summon creatures, and cast spells, if they choose.
  7. Ending Phase:
    1. End Step – Last chance to cast any spells or activate any abilities before the turn ends.
    2. Cleanup Step – Damage dealt to creatures during the turn, and any effects that last “until the end of the turn” are expunged simultaneously.

Part Six: Magic Arena

Magic Arena is an official online version of Magic: The Gathering, developed by Wizards of the Coast. It has been used as the premier medium for professional level tournaments as well as everyday casual play. Primarily focused on the Standard and Brawl formats, Magic Arena has a multitude of ways to play in different limited and constructed tournaments, as well as free play and ranked play. 
To use Magic Arena, one must first download the program from the Wizards website and then install it on your preferred computer. Once logged in, you will need to create an account with Wizards; at this time you can also input payment information if you intend to buy packs of cards in the Arena program. A word of advice: you do not have to pay anything for Magic Arena, but you will be limited to starter decks and what card rewards you can achieve at first until you can unlock more packs and build a greater variety of decks. Don’t be discouraged! The game will reward you for playing more and different decks, giving you coins that you can trade in for packs to get new and more powerful cards. 

Once you find an archetype or a couple of cards that you really like, spend some time getting to know what the cards can do and what their limitations are. Playing more and more with your preferred deck is the best way to get better at the game as a whole. If you know exactly what your cards do and when and how to cast them, you already have a leg up. It can be frustrating when you are just starting out and do not have all the cards that you want for a specific deck; take your time and practice with the cards that you do have. Building confidence and experience with the cards you do have and with the Arena program as a whole will serve you well when you can finally upgrade your favorite deck into something that is closer to competitive.

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