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“How To Play Magic: The Gathering”

Written by Ryan the Goblin King on . Posted in Magic Culture

“How To Play Magic: The Gathering”

Ryan the Goblin King

Hailing from Goblinville, IN, Ryan AKA the Goblin King has been brewing Standard decks since Kaladesh block. Ryan has only one goal as a competitive Magic player and that’s to participate in a pro tour where every participant brings with them only the finest in jank.

You’ve hit it. Sure as day, you’ve hit it and you’re at this article and it’s for no other reason then you’ve hit complete and utter rock bottom because you, alas, have found yourself going over to a friend’s place to play the super-nerdy and not-at-all-cool card game, Magic the Gathering.

If you’re under the age of 25, my best advice to you would be to take your talents elsewhere. Magic is about being smart and you’re under the age of 25 and because of that the thing your best at is being dumb so Magic’s probably not for you. I’d suggest you go out, make real friends, have great memories, live the hell out of life, and then, when you find that things are boring you, come back to this article, and read about how to play the card game, Magic the Gathering.

Over the age of 25, yep, I hate to say it but you have definitely hit rock bottom, look all around you. Yes, that middle aged man to your right is putting children’s cards into laminated sleeves. Yes, that old woman to your left is rolling out a very detailed cat-filled play-mat to play on.

Someone, somewhere is gonna try and tell you that Magic the Gathering is a turn-based-strategy game. They are wrong. When you think of a turn-based-strategy game you allow yourself to envision a game in which two people are on opposite ends of a chess board and you pass turns, using your turn and only your turn to try and win the game. You don’t lose in Chess on their turn, you don’t lose in Checkers on their turn. You win when you put them, during your turn, into a situation in which you win the game.

In Magic you can win on their turn.

In Magic you can play cards and make things happen, and kill their stuff, and take more time then they take to make, ‘their turn’ go by on their turn.

Well technically speaking, there are turns in Magic the Gathering. Each player gets to do a little card fiddling on the battlefield (the area that you’ve been told is designated by the cat play mat of the crazy lady whom has so lovingly reached over the table to share with you).

You get to draw a card each turn.

That’s the only thing that you need to know about each turn. That you do the fiddly thing with the cards that the cat lady is doing where you turn them from horizontal to vertical, THEN you draw the card, as she keeps reminding you.

And that’s it. Turn over. It’s now their turn, which, in this particular game is going to be the turn in which you win, the turn where they draw their card.

So you’re finished with the Oracle Cat Lady’s tutorial at the game store, and you’re ready to play Magic. You find yourself at a place that appears to be a video game bar with food and waitresses, you think to yourself ‘well this isn’t so bad’ before sitting down for your first match.

Whatever false sense of security you had has quickly faded away. That is correct, the man before you is indeed wearing a cape.

You’re ready to leave. Just tell Marty, it was really fun, but something came up, and make sure it’s something really drastic so you won’t be around for a bit, and you’ll see him at the office and it’s really important that you leave immediately and he’ll understand and won’t at all question you. The fact that you made it is this far, through the oracle cat lady’s tutorial, should be testament enough to your character as a person and, if anything, you’re the one that should be mad. Marty said there would be beer. Marty did not say that there would be grown men in capes.

But you find yourself unable to move from the match that is before you. Someone just walked around the table and left a match slip, so it feels official. Plus, you think to yourself what kind of a person you would be to forfeit a game of skill and competition to a grown man in cape, and so you decide to ride it out and sit here for 30 whole minutes just to see what this game without any real turns is really all about.

Things couldn’t be getting off to a worse start. The dude in the cape keeps making what’s obviously a joke about ‘Ancestral Recall’ and you can’t understand how “This is my first time playing Magic” didn’t clue him in on the fact that you definitely wouldn’t get his “Ancestral Recall” joke. Or maybe he’s making fun of you? Mocking you. The grown man in the cape.

If things weren’t bad enough, they begin to get worse due to the fact that this guy with all emo-blue cards is clearly cheating seeing as how he’s drawing not one, but two cards on what is clearly your turn, where the one thing that you know that you do, and only you do is draw a card.

Much like the oracle’s tutorial, you let this game of Magic pass much in the same way, by letting the man in the cape make your plays for you.

No, no, no, you should do this he indicates. The reasoning for his hocus-pocus makes sense to you at the time, and you begin to understand that Magic is just not Chess, or Checkers, or Bridge, or a JRPG where you pass actions back and forth, and even the things that seem like rules- you can only cast creatures on your turn, you can only cast sorcery’s on your turn- they can all be changed and they can all be circumvented like the loopholes in a tax system and it’s all due to one rule in the game of Magic that takes priority over all other rules in the game of Magic which states that:

‘If a card contradicts the rules, the card takes precedence.’

The guy in the cape crushed you in embarrassing fashion- no need to lie. He didn’t beat you by taking you from 20 points to zero, which is how you were taught you were supposed to lose in Magic. He beat you by having you run out of cards, and according to your friend Marty after the match, that is indeed another way you can lose in a game of Magic- by running out of cards.

But Magic is pretty straight forward some of the time and for match two you find yourself pitted against what seems to be Magic as the Cat oracle had told you it would be.

So each turn you play this thing called a mountain. They look like all the other mountains and one mountain might look slightly different from the other mountains but there’s no doubting that this one thing is a mountain and the other things are definitely these things you actually win the game with and most assuredly aren’t mountains.

But it’s clear that you need the mountains. One mountain can get you a cheap weak thing, but as the game progresses, and as you put down more mountains (one new mountain more per turn) you can play the cards that cost 2 mountains, or 3 mountains, or hell, 4 full mountains and trust me when I say that the stuff that costs 4 full mountains is way better than the stuff that only cost 3.

He moves through what appear to be the phases of the turn. During his first main phase the guy is playing his creatures. Then he’s attacking with them. And the math is pretty simple cause if he attacks with something that has 4 power and you can’t do anything about it, then you take 4 damage, and you only start at 20 life points so it’s just basic subtraction and sure enough, when he inevitably gets you to zero, you lose the game.

But you learn that there’s more then just these creatures that are a part of the game.

This guy also was killing the things that you were playing.

And that’s another thing about Magic that’s hard to understand at first but really it’s like in Chess where you jump over a pawn and kill it, it leaves the game, never to return.

That’s how Magic works. You play things that deal damage and take them from 20 to zero, and you respond by killing those things and making them leave the battlefield- thus, keeping you at 20 for longer then you usually would as you won’t be taking damage from a thing that is dead.

You’re creatures can block their creatures.

The combat math is extremely easy to understand.

Creatures only come with two numbers on them.

Power is the first number.

Then there is a slash sign.

And toughness is the second number, to the right of the Power number.

Creatures deal damage to things equal to their power. So if it’s attacking you, and it goes unopposed then it deals damage to you. But if a creature blocks your creature as it attacks, then it deals damage equal to its power to that creature.

If a creature has power greater than or equal to the creature that block it’s toughness (the number to the right of the other number), then it will kill that creature and the same holds true for the creature that is blocking it. So if both have power that’s greater than the others toughness, then both creatures die in a poof of smoke.

Game two is up. Game one was a beating, over before you even got that fourth mountain down. Now THIS GUY is good.

But you get three games to test your mettle and so you find yourself learning that on game 2, since you lost, you get the option to go first, which this opponent, unlike the guy in the cape (who gave you a 20 minute dissertation on the subject) tells you you pretty much always want to do.

So you choose to go first. And you find a break. You play your one mountain thing.

And you begin attacking away.


He’s down to 19.

Then you play a two-drop, and you begin attacking away with that 2-drop too. 3 damage you’re attacking for this time, 2+1 power. Your opponent is at 16.

You notice that it’s turn 3 but he only has 1 mountain in play. He had grumbled something about mulligans and apparently it was a really bad thing because he wasn’t doing so hot.

He’s down to 2.

He’s played nothing.

You’ve successfully done the attack, fiddly thing where you turn the cards from horizontal to vertical several times, and he’s about to lose. You can just feel it. He doesn’t look happy about it either.

But then something happens.

And he does draw that next mountain. And then he puts a creature down, and now that win that felt so close, feels immeasurably far away.

But then you think to how your opponent won their last game.

By getting rid of your one creature left on the battlefield first, to clear the way for his attacker to attack you, unopposed.

And you look at the card that you just drew.

Kill target creature it says.

And it only costs one mountain.

You have one mountain you think to yourself.

So you do the fiddly thing with the mountain.

Kill your opponents creature that is before you.

And attack for that final point of damage that is left.

He’s at zero.

You’ve won the game.

But you notice that something is off.

It’s Marty. He’s approaching you in a very curious manner.

“Somethings come up, I don’t want to talk about it and I have to leave immediately. I’m sorry.” he tells you.


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