What is Magic: the Gathering and what do all the cards do?

Allow us to explain!

Magic: The Gathering, also "Magic" or "MTG", is a turn-based strategy card game commonly played with two players (though it can be played with more). Each player uses their own deck, which may be assembled from cards they own, or from a random selection, (e.g. booster packs). The "classic" way to win is to reduce your opponent's life total to 0; however, over the decades of its existence, there have accumulated over 20,000 unique cards, with hundreds more being released every year. As a result, this is a game of many possibilities! In the interests of brevity (and your sanity), we will omit certain subtleties of the rules, but will provide a brief introduction that should be enough to get you playing.

General Game Info:

  • The game starts with each player shuffling their deck (called a library) and drawing seven cards
  • Each player starts with 20 life
  • Each player's library typically has 60 cards
  • Each player's library typically has no more than a few copies of any given card
  • Each player draws a card at the beginning of their turn (in a two-player game the first player skips the first draw)

Brief Definitions:

  • Playing a card means putting it from your hand onto the table (called the battlefield). Most cards can only be played on their owner's turn.
  • Tapping a card means taking a card on the battlefield (a permanent) and turning it sideways; once a card is tapped, it stays tapped until the start of its controller's next turn, untapping before they draw.
  • Mana is a magical resource used to play cards and pay for effects. It can be colored (red, green, blue, black, white) or colorless. Any card that isn't a land will have a mana cost (top-right corner of the card). This tells you how much mana you need to pay to play that card, and what color that mana needs to be. A plain number indicates generic mana, which can be paid with whatever mana. A card's color identity is whatever mana colors are in its mana cost. If a card has no mana colors in its cost, it is colorless.
  • If a card is destroyed, it is put into its owner's graveyard. The same is true of a dead or sacrificed creature, or of a planeswalker at 0 loyalty.
  • If a card is exiled, it is put into its owner's exile pile. Exile is far worse than death; while there are many cards that resurrect from the graveyard, there are only a small handful that return from exile.

Pick a card to get started


Lands represent locations under your control, and are the most common way to generate mana. They are a unique card type in several ways: they have no mana cost, you may only play one per turn, and -- if the land is a "basic" land -- you may have any number in your library. These are the basic land types and the color of mana they make: Mountain (red), Forest (green), Island (blue), Swamp (black), Plains (white), Wastes (colorless). Lands almost always require tapping to produce mana; however, many lands have unique effects, such as letting you choose the type of mana you get from them, making multiple mana colors at once, or even effects that have nothing to do with mana! Some lands don't make any mana at all, but these are rare. The most common types of lands you'll see in play are probably those that tap for 1-2 colors, or for "any color".


Creatures represent warriors, minions, and monsters in your service, and are a staple of the game; killing your opponents with damage from creatures was the original way to win, early in Magic's history, and continues to be one of the most common paths to victory. Every creature has a power and toughness (shown in the bottom-right corner as "P / T"); Its power represents how much damage it deals in combat, and its toughness represents how much damage it takes to kill. Creatures are used to attack your opponent during your turn's combat phase (you only get one per turn, but you can begin it whenever you want); after you declare attackers (announcing which of your creatures will attack), your opponent may choose to declare some of their own creatures as blockers. When two creatures clash in this way, each simultaneously deals damage to the other's toughness. This may result in both creatures killing one another, both surviving, or one surviving and the other dying. Your opponent may choose to block an attacker with more than one blocker; in this case, the opponent decides which blockers deal/take damage first; your attacker will deal the same damage to each blocker it faces, but its toughness will gradually be worn down. If it survives, its toughness will "heal" at the end of your turn. When you play a creature, it has what is commonly called "summoning sickness" until the start of your next turn. Summoning sickness prevents the creature from attacking, and from using effects that require tapping. Often, creatures will come with one or more keywords, such as "haste", "vigilance", "trample", etc. These keywords are shorthands for common creature abilities; an FAQ section detailing the most common ones is coming soon.


Arifacts are much more diverse than creatures; they may represent a magical item, a piece of equipment, a bauble, a device, or even a completely natural object. Some of the artifacts most commonly seen in everyday play are called "mana rocks"; these usually cost no more than 2-3 mana to play, and typically tap for one mana. This makes them similar to lands, but without the "1 per turn" limitation. As a result, they are very useful in gaining mana advantage over your opponent. Another common type of artifact is "Equipment"; these have the unique ability to attach themselves to one of your creatures, usually providing said creature with one or more buffs, such as increases to its power and/or toughness and sometimes additional keywords (FAQ coming soon). Beyond this, artifacts are a very broad category; many have unique effects, some of which alter core mechanics of the game (usually) in your favor. Most artifacts have a purely generic cost, requiring no particular mana color to play; as a result, they are a great fit in many decks, and are ubiquitous throughout the game.


Enchantments represent persistent magical effects. Most have some sort of continuous effect, or modify the game rules in some way. They are very similar to artifacts in their great variety and diversity; the biggest difference is that while most artifacts are colorless, all enchantments have a color. Certain types of enchantments have specific targets; these are called Auras and Curses. Curses are generally harmful enchantments intended to be cast on your opponent; Auras can be beneficial or harmful, and may be cast on yourself, your opponent, or any card on the battlefield belonging to either.


Planeswalkers represent specific figures in the story of Magic: the Gathering. In this fantasy setting, the universe is actually a multiverse consisting of many dimensions called "planes", which planeswalkers have the unique ability to travel between (all other creatures being stuck in their plane of origin). Indeed, in the lore of the game, the players are planeswalkers themselves, channelling powerful magic to summon creatures, conjure enchantments, and so on. A planeswalker card, then, represents a "fellow" planeswalker whom you call to your aid. Despite the fact that planeswalker characters are living intelligent beings (humans, elves, &c), planeswalker cards do not count as creatures in the game rules. As counterintuitive as this is, perhaps a good interpretation is that they are "above the common rabble"; they have "agreed to help you out", but will not participate in such "low" activities as attacking your opponent directly. However, they do offer their services in the form of their loyalty. When you play a planeswalker, they enter the battlefield with some initial loyalty (shown in the bottom-right of the card). Once on each of your turns, you may activate one of their loyalty abilities; these will increase or decrease their loyalty by the stated amount. A "minus" ability can't be used unless the planeswalker actually has at least that much loyalty. Planeswalker abilities are as varied and diverse as those of artifacts and enchantments; they are often very beneficial, making planeswalkers a high-priority target for your opponent. A planeswalker's loyalty is decreased if they take damage; in keeping with the game's lore, if you control a planeswalker, your opponent may choose for some of their creatures to attack at your planeswalker instead of you. You may declare blockers accordingly; if a planeswalker ends up being damaged, their loyalty is reduced by that amount, similar to your own life.

Instants & Sorceries

Unlike the preceding card types, instants and sorceries represent "spells" in the classic fantasy sense; that is, they are generally a one-time, single-use effect. When you play one, instead of going to the battlefield, it resolves and then immediately moves to your graveyard. The biggest difference between instants and sorceries comes down to timing: while sorceries can only be cast on your turn (the same as artifacts, enchantments, and planeswalkers), you can cast an instant pretty much whenever you want, including on an opponent's turn. instants and sorceries are incredibly diverse. Some deal damage directly to your opponent's life; others have effects such as "destroy all creatures" (called "board wipes", because they "wipe the board"); others exist purely to prevent a card from being played by your opponent (like the classic "counterspell"). Together, instants and sorceries are colloquially called "spells" by the Magic community; however, this easily leads to confusion, because the word "spell" has a specific meaning in the MTG rules (coming soon).