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The Legit MTG Magic Dictionary

Written by LegitMTG Staff on . Posted in Magic Culture

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[ed: updated 2/20/13: fatty, ham sandwich, spellslinging, scoop, ramp and tank – thanks to you fine folk in the comments for great suggestions!]

Recently, I spent some time in a Dick’s Sporting Goods picking out an assortment of new camping gear. In my younger years, I chose my outdoor sports equipment in much the manner that I still select my wine: the label test. If you haven’t heard of the label test, it involves purchasing wine based on how much you like the label. The theory is that a winemaker will choose a label based on the same general aesthetic they are imbuing into their wine. Ergo, if you like the label, you should like the experience the wine is intended to deliver.

Where was I? Oh, right. Dick’s. So these days, I’ve wised up and learned that frame packs, tents and sleeping bags are different than wine. Shocking, I know. A really slick looking tent in my favorite color could have a penchant for tears in the groundsheet. Waking up in an unexpectedly damp sleeping bag is unpleasant. Although that one time I slept outside during a moderate snowfall in a sub-zero mummy sleeping bag with a head cover, I was kind of asking for it. But I digress. The shopping experience reminded me of something that has absolutely fascinated me for most of my more conscious (read: post-college) years: no matter how narrow and obscure the hobby, that hobby has an entire language that is nonsense to an uninitiated observer. Not to mention that the hobby probably has at least five different dedicated magazine titles. See: knitting or tea.

If your first introduction to Magic the Gathering came by way of unknowingly visiting a gaming venue during Friday Night Magic, this should ring a bell. You may have stood by while people swung, smashed, peeled and ripped. What in the world were they talking about? It sounded halfway between playing baseball and making some kind of fruit smoothie. Magic the Gathering is not alone among hobbies — it has an entire thoroughly obtuse lexicon. Well, here at LegitMTG an entire pillar of our lengthy corporate mission statement is dedicated to helping new Magic the Gathering players adjust to our unique subculture so that they stick around and buy more singles[ed: these statements not endorsed by Jonathan Medina]. Help is on the way.

I present you with the Legit MTG Magic Dictionary. If you are a new player, we hope this dictionary of Magic the Gathering terminology will help speed you on your way to speaking Magic and being mistaken for an escaped mental health patient by losers who don’t play. If you’re old enough to remember opening a Thoughtlace in draft, we hope this serves as a fun trip down memory lane. Be forewarned that this is not a complete, unabridged collection of every bit of slang used at the wizarding tables. It’s just a sample. A teaser, if you will. Your task after reading the article is to fill the comment section with everything we’ve missed, old and new, and write the best (but PG-rated, please) definition that you possibly can. You have been challenged, Internet. The glove is off.

The Legit MTG Magic Dictionary

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187

  1. Noun – a creature card with a triggered ability that destroys another creature when it enters the battlefield.
  2. Verb – to kill a creature card with the aforementioned ability.

Origin:

187 is derived from the police code for murder in California. The term was popularized in early gangster rap music and entered Magic through cross-pollination of those two similar subcultures.

Quotes:

Nekrataal is the O.G. of 187 creatures.”

“Oh ho ho, son. Did my Slayer of the Wicked just 187 your only out?”

barn

  1. Verb – to repeatedly follow a successful or well known Magic player at events, attempting to engage them in conversation or social interaction.
  2. Noun – a person who follows a well known Magic player, often in the hopes of attaining increased notoriety by association.

Origin:

Barn is short for barnacle, which connotes attaching oneself to a “larger personality” much like a barnacle attaches to a host whale.

Quotes:

“Did you see that guy trying to chat up Matt Linde between every game of every freaking match? What a barn.”

“Quit barning me. It’s getting creepy.”

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bear

  1. Noun – a 2/2 creature with a converted mana cost of one colorless mana and one colored mana. Often, the creature has no other abilities (see: “vanilla”).

Origin:

The term comes from the creature Grizzly Bear, which is a 2/2 costing 1G and was printed in the first edition of Magic the Gathering.

Quotes:

“My draft deck would have been more aggressive if I was able to pick up more bears.”

blowout

  1. Noun – a sequence of plays in a game of Magic that results in one player gaining a significant advantage in the game state — often against an opponent who did not expect the sequence to occur.
  2. Verb – to gain a significant advantage in the game state over an opponent through a sequence of plays.

Origin:

The usage may be derived from a tire blowout on a motor vehicle, which is often sudden, unexpected and demoralizing.

Quote:

“I just took my third loss and dropped. I used my last card to get Progenitus into play. Next turn, I attacked and he played Wing Shards. What a blowout.”

bounce

  1. Verb – to return a card to its owner’s hand from the battlefield or, in some situations, from the stack (see: “stack”).

Origin:

The term comes from the physical action of returning the card from play. This often occurs shortly after the card was played, implying that it touched down too briefly to have much effect.

Quote:

“I’ll play Silent Departure and bounce your Skaab Ruinator. Good luck casting him again.”

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broken

  1. Adjective – card or interaction between cards that is considered to be too powerful for the format in which it’s being played.

Origin:

A format was considered “broken” and unhealthy when an overly powerful strategy completely dominated and excluded all other reasonable strategies from succeeding based on sheer power level. The term broken generally implies that the format then needs to be fixed.

Quote:

Jace, the Mind Sculptor was widely acknowledged as broken in Standard when it showed up as four copies in every deck in the Top 8 of Grand Prix Dallas 2011.”

brown

  1. Verb – to defeat an opponent convincingly and by a large margin.

Origin:

Being the normal color of healthy human fecal matter, “browning” someone refers to beating them physically until they have lost control of their bowels.

Quote:

“He played Show and Tell and put Griselbrand into play. Obviously, I played Gilded Drake and proceeded to brown him with his own guy.”

bulk

  1. Noun – Magic cards with a low monetary value that are often purchased by vendors at a predetermined flat rate for large quantities, regardless of the individual cards involved.
  2. Adjective – A description often modifying the rarity of card, implying that the card is or will be value-less relative to cards of the same rarity. E.g., a bulk mythic.

Origin:

Large lots of commercial goods can be bought “in bulk” at significantly lower per unit prices than when sold individually or in smaller lot sizes.

Quote:

“I plan to sell a huge amount of bulk to the dealer just to shave a few dollars off the price of my last Underground Sea.”

Splinter Twin was a bulk rare until Deceiver Exarch was printed in the same Standard format.”

burn

  1. Noun – Magic cards typically of the instant or sorcery card types that can deal damage directly to an opponent’s life total.
  2. Verb – To deal damage directly to an opponent’s life total with an instant or sorcery card.

Origin:

In Magic, the color red is the color associated with fire and providing the most direct damage spells. An early and popular direct damage spell, Fireball, may have helped cement the use of the phrase “burn you.”

Quote:

“What to do with this Lightning Bolt? All your creatures have hexproof, so I guess we’re going to burn you. Three to the dome.”

clock

  1. Noun – based on the power of creatures or other damage sources in play (or cards in library in some cases; see “mill”), the clock refers to the number of turns until a player’s life total reaches zero.

Origin:

A reference to the archetypal timepiece used by humans to monitor the progress of their own mortality in standard units of measure, rather than turns.

Quote:

“I was prepared to take over the game in four turns, but then he played a second Goblin Guide and his five-turn clock became a three-turn clock.”

cube

  1. Noun – a constructed set of Magic cards that players draft from to make temporary decks and play against each other.
  2. Verb – to conduct a draft event using a cube.

Origin:

Most likely originates from the card boxes frequently used to store and transport draft cubes.

Quote:

“We really wanted to cube, but the host forgot to bring his Onslaught/Lorwyn block cube to the store.”

curve

  1. Noun – the statistical distribution of converted mana costs in your Magic deck. This roughly approximates your likelihood on average of having a spell to play each turn for the first few turns of a game.
  2. Verb – to have available and/or make a play each turn for the first few turns of the game — to “curve out.”

Origin:

When plotted on a line graph, the mana cost distribution in a theoretically ideal, generic Magic deck would produce a distinctive curve.

Quotes:

“I just drafted a deck with a very top-heavy curve. For most of my games, I only cast one or two spells before my fourth turn.”

“I curved out perfectly against my opponent with creatures on each of the first three turns. He didn’t have early plays and I dealt a lot of damage before he could catch up.”

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donkey

  1. Noun – an unimpressive player. Sometimes shortened to “donk.”

Origin:

May derive indirectly from the phrase “as stubborn as a mule,” despite a donkey being half mule and half horse.

Quote:

“You mulligan that hand every time. One land on the play? There’s no Brainstorm in Standard. What a donk!”

durdle

  1. Verb – to spend a significant amount of time taking actions that do not accomplish anything meaningful.
  2. Noun – a person or card that does not usually accomplish anything meaningful.

Origin:

Unknown. But probably awesome.

Quote:

“I really like this combo deck, except it spends about two turns more durdling around than I can really get away with in this format.”

EV

  1. Noun – a probability mathematics term, “expected value,” which refers to the average outcome of a situation over a long period.

Quote:

“I really miss the Star City Games Draft Opens. They were pretty high EV for competent drafters.”

Origin:

The use of EV in Magic to understand tournament value and opportunity cost came about through cross-pollination with poker culture.

exactsies

  1. Noun – the amount of damage or life loss required to reduce an opponent’s life total to zero from its current value.

Quote:

“I was at four and paid a life to use my Polluted Delta to find a Swamp, but he had a Lightning Bolt and hit me for exactsies.”

Origin:

“Exactsies” is a play on the word “exactly.”

fatty

  1. Noun – a creature whose power and toughness are large enough to have a very significant impact on the game.

Quote:

“I was able to survive long enough to deploy my fatty. His fast, aggressive creatures were no match from that point on.”

Origin:

“Fatty” is a reference to the “physical” size of the creature in combat.

gas

  1. Noun – a card or a group of cards that are circumstantially optimal.

Origin:

May be a corruption of the British slang that refers to an entertaining or amusing person or event. Or may simply be based on gasoline’s role in driving vehicles powered by a combustion engine.

Quote:

“My opening hand was all gas and then I drew gas every turn after that.”

ham sandwich

  1. Noun – a bad deck, possibly performing well in the hands of a strong pilot.

Origin:

A Channel Fireball article by Alexander Shearer called “Ham Sandwich FTW” dissects the performance of some consistently top performing constructed players.

Quote:

“You can criticize Shouta Yasooka’s deck choice all you want. We both know that guy can win with a ham sandwich.”

kart

  1. Verb – to drive or ride along with other Magic players to an event such as a Pro Tour Qualifier or Grand Prix.

Quote:

“Can you kart me to the Type 1.5 PTQ this weekend? I’ll bring gas money and gassy tech.”

Origin:

A reference to the popular video game series Mario Kart.

looter

  1. Noun – a card — usually a creature — with the ability to draw a card and then discard a card, increasing the quality of cards in your hand over time.
  2. Verb (as “loot”)  – to activate an ability or cast a spell requiring you to draw a card or cards and discard the same amount.

Quote:

“I will take any looter pretty early in a draft. Then I draft good cards and rely on being able to find them.”

Origin:

The mechanic was popularized by the card Merfolk Looter, which first appeared in Exodus and was included in several Core Sets.

lucksack

  1. Noun – a player who performs well in a turn, game, match or event despite unfavorable odds or poor technical play. Also referred to as a “sack.”

Origin:

Assumed to be another phrase resulting from cross-pollination with poker culture.

Quote:

“You kept that horrible hand and had three straight perfect draws. You are the biggest lucksack that I know.”

metagame

  1. Noun – the anticipated mixture of deck strategies in a given format, season or tournament based on factors such as recent tournament finishes for a deck, popularity, card accessibility, local trends and other variables.
  2. Verb – to build or select a deck based heavily on its position relative to other popular or likely decks in an event rather than on sheer deck quality alone.

Origin:

[ed: all guesses on the origin of this term were deemed too meta to be useful, sorry]

Quote:

“She came prepared for a Merfolk-heavy metagame with Llawan, Cephalid Empress in the sideboard and she was richly rewarded, facing it five out of eight rounds.”

mill

  1. Verb – to cause a player to put cards from the top of their library into their graveyard.

Origin:

The term comes from a popular, original card with the ability called Millstone.

Quote:

“Few things are more rewarding in Magic than milling someone to death. Although, finding a rare in the common box is probably a close second.”

miser

  1. Noun – someone who gets lucky with a crucial draw step, which is referred to as a mize.

Origin:

A corruption of “might as well” into “mise well” and eventually shortened to “mize.”

Quote:

“So, I’m dead next turn and the only hope is my single copy of Unsummon out of 42 remaining cards. Obviously, I’m a stone cold miser and draw it on the spot to win.”

out

  1. Noun – a card or cards remaining in a player’s deck which, if drawn, will save the player from defeat. Often referred to with a number prefix, such as a two-outer, where the player has two “outs” left in the deck and must draw either.

Origin:

Assumed to generically refer to a way out of the player’s current game situation.

Quote:

“So, he counters my Unsummon and that was my only out. I die. Anyone want to go get Fogo?”

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peel

  1. Verb – to draw a desired or anticipated card from the library.
  2. Noun – a desired or anticipated card drawn from the library.

Origin:

At critical moments, many players will dramatically draw the next card in a motion like peeling towards oneself — reminiscent of a baccarat card being revealed in a Macau casino but without damage to the card, given the high collectible value of many Magic cards.

Quote:

“I noticed that his hands were shaking when he peeled the last card off. Of course, when he revealed the Bonfire of the Damned, pretty much everyone was shaking.”

pinger

  1. Noun – A creature or, less commonly, other permanent with the ability to tap to deal one damage to a creature or player.

Origin:

To “ping” something implies a small impact.

Quote:

“You’d be surprised how often you use Pirate Ship as a pinger, even when it could be attacking for three more damage.”

power

  1. Noun – a Magic card that is included in a group of cards referred to as the “Power 9, which includes: Black Lotus, Ancestral Recall, Time Walk, Time Twister, Mox Pearl, Mox Sapphire, Mox Jet, Mox Ruby and Mox Emerald.
  2. Adjective (as “powered”) – a constructed, playable collection of Magic cards such as a deck or a Cube that contains a set or subset of power.

Origin:

The Power 9 were among the earliest cards to be banned or restricted in sanctioned constructed formats because of their extremely high power level.

Quote:

“I bought up a ton of power in the late 90s and now I’m considering selling it all and buying a boat instead.”

railbird

  1. Noun – someone who spectates another match of Magic, particularly a non-player spectator.
  2. Verb – (sometimes as “bird” ) – to spectate a game of Magic.

Origin:

An old term for a horse racing enthusiast; specifically, one who watches a race while standing along the outside rail of the track.

Quote:

“I didn’t bring a deck tonight. I’m just here to railbird.”

ramp

  1. Noun – a card which accelerates re-usable mana beyond the normal amount available under the rules-based restriction to play one land per turn.
  2. Verb – playing a card which accelerates re-usable mana.

Origin:

Originally began as an abbreviation of the early ramp card, Rampant Growth. Also refers to ramp’s ability to extend access to a desirable location that would otherwise be difficult or more laborious to access.

Quote:

“The current era of Commander is defined by ramp decks which combine mana acceleration and powerful, expensive spells to muscle out opponents.”

rip

  1. Verb – to draw a desired or anticipated card from the library.
  2. Noun – a desired or anticipated card drawn from the library.

Origin:

Derived from the action of hastily grabbing the top card in anticipation of a crucial draw.

Quote:

“One copy of Terminus in the whole deck? What a rip.”

scoop

  1. Verb – to concede or acknowledge the loss of a game of Magic.

Origin:

When a game concludes, players will “scoop” up their cards from the table. In some cases, scooping itself signals acknowledgement that the opposing player has won, even if the outcome has not formally resolved.

Quote:

“The blue player countered the first two copies of Choke, but scooped as soon as the third one made it into play.”

serve

  1. Verb – to attack with creatures (see “smash” and “swing”).

Quote:

“Tapping all my creatures. Serve in for lethal damage.”

Origin:

To “serve” likely comes from tennis, where a rally is opened with a serve.

smash

  1. Verb – to attack with creatures (see “serve” and “swing”).

Origin:

Creature combat is often represented as waves of creatures smashing into each other like armies on a field of battle. This also helps the trample mechanic make more sense (but not rampage or banding, sadly).

Quote:

“He smashed in with 20 1/1 Goblin tokens, but luckily I was holding a Marrow Shards to mop up the field.”

spellslinging

  1. Verb – when a professional or well known Magic player or other recognizable media figure plays non-competitive Magic games against other players as part of promotional activities for an event.

Origin:

The Magic-playing equivalent to a gunslinger who would perform tricks and feats with firearms to draw a crowd.

Quote:

“I heard Mark Rosewater would be spellslinging at this event, so I packed my deck full of Leeches and wiped the floor with him.”

stack

  1. Noun – the zone of play in which spells are placed once cast and until they resolve and have their effect.

Quote:

“Four counters between us and a Misdirection on your Swords to Plowshares — this stack is getting complicated.”

Origin:

In Computer Science, a stack is a last in, first out (LIFO) data structure where the first item removed from the stack is the item added most recently and the last item to be removed is the oldest item in the stack.

stick

  1. Noun – a useless or incompetent player.

Quote:

“Did you just Aether Vial in a Coralhelm Commander in response to a Terminus? What a stick.”

Origin:

Assumed to come from the English euphemism “a stick in the mud,” which is not considered to be very useful.

swing

  1. Verb – to attack with creatures.

Quote:

“You’re at 19? I’ll cast Tooth and Nail with Entwine. I’ll put Urabrask the Hidden and Terastodon into play, destroy three of my lands with the trigger to make three Elephant tokens and swing with everything for exactsies.”

Origin:

Most likely, swinging refers to the motion of a baseball bat trying to make contact with a pitched ball. Other possible origins include tennis or golf.

tank

  1. Verb – to enter an extended period of thought and consideration regarding the next play or series of plays. Common variants include “tanking” and “going into the tank.”

Quote:

“My opponent went deep into the tank and after about thirty seconds, straightened up, nodded and then still made the worst possible play anyways.”

Origin:

From the term “think tank,” which implies thorough analysis and deliberation.

technology

  1. Noun – The inclusion of an unusual card or collection of cards in a deck or sideboard for the purposes of increasing event performance in a specific metagame. Frequently shortened to “tech.”

Quote:

“He went undefeated against Punishing Fire Maverick and Goblins on the back of his Phyrexian Crusader technology out of the sideboard.”

Origin:

Technology in Magic represents an innovation that improves the performance of a player or team on the cutting edge, relative to other participants. This is similar to how new technology can positively disrupt society, although frequently the innovation is known or accessible only to a subgroup initially, until it becomes widely adopted and price-accessible.

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tilt

  1. Noun – an agitated emotional state that causes a player to lose focus, act irrationally and become angry, irritable and sometimes violent.
  2. Verb – to become tilted or to cause another player to tilt.

Quote:

“After his opponent pointed out the third missed trigger, he just went on tilt, slamming his cards around and making obviously bad plays.”

Origin:

Pinball machines, when shaken excessively to keep a ball from being lost, would lock the player’s controls causing the game to end and would display TILT on screen.

Tim

  1. Noun – the Magic card Prodigal Sorcerer (see: “pinger”).

Origin:

The name “Tim” is a reference to the character Tim the Enchanter from Monty Python and the Holy Grail who, among other things, shot small fireballs at things frequently. Several other cards were given variant Tim-related names, such as Pirate Ship being referred to as “Tim on a boat” and Rod of Ruin being nicknamed “Tim on a stick.”

Quote:

“If I ever get the chance to draft Beta, once I’m done taking all the expensive cards, my next move will be to look for as many Tims as I can get.”

tings

  1. Noun – Short for “beatings.”

Origin:

Cuteness.

Quote:

“He left his deck at the tournament after going 0-2 drop and then found his tires slashed in the parking lot. Such brutal tings.”

topdeck

  1. Verb – to draw a desired or anticipated card from the library.
  2. Noun – a desired or anticipated card drawn from the library.

Origin:

The top of the deck. Literally.

Quote:

Cruel Ultimatum! What an insane topdeck.”

tron

  1. Noun – a full set of Urza’s Mine, Urza’s Tower and Urza’s Power Plant.

Origin:

A popular deck called “Urzatron” made use of these lands when they were reprinted in Standard. Assembling all three lands produces a powerful effect; the name is a reference to the cartoon Voltron in which various robots would assemble into a larger and more powerful robot.

Quote:

“She assembled Tron on Turn 3 and played Karn Liberated. That was pretty much the end of that.”

vanilla

  1. Adjective – a creature with only power and toughness and no abilities.

Origin:

Vanilla is considered to be a plain and unexciting flavor of ice cream.

Quote:

“Although Silvercoat Lion is a reasonably-costed 2/2, it’s still vanilla.”

variance

  1. Noun – In statistics, a descriptor of a probability distribution that indicates how far spread out the numbers are on the distribution. In Magic, it is generally used to refer to relevant circumstances or factors that are not entirely under a player’s control, such as what decks they get paired against, which cards they draw and how often they win the opportunity to play first in a match.

Origin:

The use of the term in Magic came about through cross-pollination with poker culture.

Quote:

“I have variance to thank for making Top 8 in this PTQ. I played against Merfolk five times, and that is a very favorable match for my deck.”

windmill slam

  1. Verb – to enthusiastically and hastily play a card or choose a card in a draft.

Origin:

The name comes from the windmill motion made by a person’s arm as they exaggerate playing a card onto the table.

Quote:

“When the first pack came back around to me in that draft and I saw that Murder was still in there, I could not windmill slam it fast enough.”

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