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Magic: The Gathering

Magic: The Gathering is a trading card game and a digital collectible card game. It was created by Richard Garfield.

First published in 1993 by Wizards of the Coast, Magic was the first trading card game created and it continues to thrive, with approximately twenty million players as of 2015. Magic can be played by two or more players in various formats, which fall into two categories: constructed and limited.

Limited formats involve players building a deck spontaneously out of a pool of random cards with a minimum deck size of 40 cards. In constructed, players created decks from cards they own, usually 60 cards with no more than 4 of any given card. Magic is played in person with printed cards, or using a deck of virtual cards through the Internet-based Magic: The Gathering Online, or on a smartphone or tablet, or through other programs.

Each game represents a battle between wizards known as "planeswalkers", who employ spells, artifacts, and creatures depicted on individual Magic cards to defeat their opponents. Although the original concept of the game drew heavily from the motifs of traditional fantasy role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons, the gameplay of Magic bears little similarity to pencil-and-paper adventure games, while having substantially more cards and more complex rules than many other card games.

New cards are released on a regular basis through expansion sets. An organized tournament system played at an international level and a worldwide community of professional Magic players has developed, as well as a substantial secondary market for Magic cards. Certain Magic cards can be valuable due to their rarity and utility in game play, with prices ranging from a few cents to thousands of dollars.

Game Play

A game of Magic involves two or more players who are engaged in a battle acting as powerful wizards called planeswalkers. Each player has their own deck, either one previously constructed or made from a limited pool of cards for the event. A player starts the game with twenty "life points" and loses the game when their life total is reduced to zero. A player can also lose if they must draw from an empty deck. In addition, some cards specify other ways to win or lose the game. Garfield has stated that two major influences in his creation of Magic: the Gathering were the games Cosmic Encounter, which first used the concept that normal rules could sometimes be overridden, and Dungeons & Dragons. The "Golden Rule of Magic" states that "Whenever a card's text directly contradicts the rules, the card takes precedence." The Comprehensive Rules, a detailed rulebook, exists to clarify conflicts.

Players begin the game by shuffling their decks and then drawing seven cards. Players draw one card at the beginning of each of their turns, except the first player on their first turn unless there are more than 2 players. Players alternate turns. The two basic kinds of cards are "spells" and "lands". Lands provide "mana", or magical energy, which is used as magical fuel when the player attempts to cast spells. Players may only play one land per turn. More powerful spells cost more mana, so as the game progresses more mana becomes available, and the quantity and relative power of the spells played tends to increase. Spells come in several varieties: "sorceries" and "instants" have a single, one-time effect before they go to the "graveyard" (discard pile); "enchantments" and "artifacts" are "permanents" that remain in play after being cast to provide a lasting magical effect; "creature" spells (also a type of permanent) summon creatures that can attack and damage an opponent. The set Lorwyn introduced the new "planeswalker" card type, which represents powerful allies who fight with their own magic abilities.

Deck Construction

In most Constructed tournament formats, decks are required to be a minimum of sixty cards, with no upper limit. Players may use no more than four copies of any named card, with the exception of "basic lands", which act as a standard resource in Magic, and some specific cards that state otherwise. For example, the card Relentless Rats states that a deck may contain any number of itself. Certain formats such as Commander may limit the number of iterations of a single card players may have in their decks. These are colloquially known as singleton formats.

In most Constructed formats, there exists a list of individual cards which have been "restricted" (the card is limited to a single copy per deck) or "banned" (the card is no longer legal for tournament play). These limitations are usually for balance of power reasons, but have been occasionally made because of gameplay mechanics.

In "Limited" tournament formats, a small number of cards are opened for play from booster packs or tournament packs, and a minimum deck size of forty cards is enforced. The most popular limited format is draft, in which players open a booster pack, choose a card from it, and pass it to the player seated next to them. This continues until all the cards have been picked, and then a new pack is opened. Three packs are opened altogether, and the direction of passing alternates left-right-left.

Deck building requires strategy as players must choose among thousands of cards which they want to play. This requires players to evaluate the power of their cards, as well as the possible synergies between them, and their possible interactions with the cards they expect to play against (this "metagame" can vary in different locations or time periods). The choice of cards is usually narrowed by the player deciding which colors they want to include in the deck. This decision is a key part of creating a deck. In general, reducing the number of colors used increases the consistency of play and the probability of drawing the lands needed to cast one's spells, at the expense of restricting the range of tactics available to the player.

Colours Of Magic

Most spells come in one of five colors. The colors can be seen on the back of the cards, in a pentagonal design, called the "Color Wheel" or "Color Pie". Clockwise from the top, they are: white (W), blue (U), black (B), red (R), and green (G). To play a spell of a given color, at least one mana of that color is required. This mana is normally generated by a basic land: plains for white, island for blue, swamp for black, mountain for red, and forest for green. The balances and distinctions among the five colors form one of the defining aspects of the game. Each color has strengths and weaknesses based on the "style" of magic it represents.


White is the color of order, equality, righteousness, healing, law, community, peace, and light. White's strengths include a roster of smaller creatures, as well as the ability to create creature tokens, both of which are strong collectively; protecting and enhancing those creatures with enchantments; increasing one's life points; preventing damage to creatures or players; imposing restrictions on players; disabling the capabilities of opposing creatures; and powerful spells that "equalize" the playing field by destroying all cards of a given type.

White creatures are renowned for their defense-favoring abilities, many of which include "Protection" and "Vigilance". White magic opposes artificial fabrication, this being represented by many of its spells that can destroy artifacts and enchantments. White's weaknesses include the fact that many of its spells favor smaller creatures; its passive playing style in which it relies on an opponent's actions to maximize its own effects; and the nature of its most powerful spells that usually affect all players equally—including the casting player


Blue is the color of intellect, reason, illusion, logic, knowledge, manipulation, and trickery, as well as the classical elements of air and water. Blue's strengths include allowing a player to draw additional cards; permanently taking control of an opponent's cards; returning cards from the battlefield to their owner's hand; forcing cards to go directly from a player's deck to their graveyard; and negating spells before they are successfully cast. Blue's creatures tend to be weaker than those of the other colors, but commonly have abilities which make them difficult to block, "Flying" being the most common evasive ability among Blue creatures.

Blue's power of extra-sensory perception is represented by the ability "Scry", which allows the player to look at the top cards of his or her deck and choose whether he or she will draw those cards the subsequent turns. Since Blue magic revolves around advancement and technology, it has the highest number of cards having beneficial interactions with artifacts. Blue's weaknesses include its inability to destroy spells already placed on the field, having them returned to the hand instead; the fixation of negating and delaying enemy actions, while itself lacking an aggressive plan; and the way it prolongs the game and victory, thus allowing the opponent a possibility for a sudden comeback.


Black is the color of power, ambition, death, illness, corruption, selfishness, amorality, and sacrifice. It is not necessarily evil, though many of its cards refer directly or indirectly to this concept. Black's strengths include the ability to destroy creatures instantly; forcing players to discard cards from their hand; decreasing a player's life while you usually gain that same amount lost; evasive abilities are common among Black creatures; and resurrecting creatures from a player's graveyard. Furthermore, because Black seeks to win at all costs, it has limited access to many abilities or effects that are normally available only to one of the other colors; but these abilities often require large sacrifices of life totals, creatures, cards in hand, cards in library, and other difficult-to-replace resources.

One of the most notable abilities among Black creatures is "Deathtouch", which always causes creatures damaged by those possessing this ability to be sent to the graveyard, regardless of the damage amount assigned. Black's main weaknesses include an almost complete inability to deal with enchantments and artifacts; the tendency to inflict itself with severe negative effects in order to defeat the opponent; the way in which it overly relies on cards inside the graveyards; and difficulties in removing other Black creatures.


Red is the color of freedom, chaos, passion, creativity, impulse, fury, warfare, lightning, the classical element of fire, and the abiotic geological aspects of the classical element earth. Red's strengths include the ability to directly damage creatures or players; destroying opposing lands and artifacts; and sacrificing permanent resources for temporary but high-profit power. Red has a wide array of creatures, but (with the exception of late-game powerhouses, such as Red's notable dragons) most tend to be defensively weak, rendering them easier to destroy. As a trade-off, some of these weaker creatures have the ability to temporarily raise their offense value, leaving their defense value unaffected; many other Red spells focus on this concept of glass cannon offense.

Much like Blue, Red explores the element of trickery, this being represented by spells that are able to temporarily steal an opponent's creatures; divert or copy other spells; and those involving random chance. In terms of keyword abilities, Red tends to focus on quickness and speed, this being represented by the popular abilities "Haste" and "First Strike". Red's weaknesses include its inability to destroy enchantments; the self-destructive, single-use nature of many of its spells; the overall lack of defense value or toughness of its creatures; and the way in which it trades early-game speed and vulnerability for late-game staying power, in which it may not last that long.


Green is the color of life, nature, evolution/adaptability, ecology, interdependence, instinct, and indulgence. Green's strengths are on the battlefield, usually winning by means of combat with creatures, of which it has a broad menagerie. These tend to be notably strong at a low mana cost and have abilities that make them more survivable, the two most common being "Regenerate" and "Hexproof". Many of Green's creatures also possess the ability "Trample", which allows the attacking creature to deal combat damage to an opponent even if blocked by a weaker creature. Recurring elements among Green spells include increasing a creature's offense and defense value, temporarily or permanently; forcing two or more creature to fight with each other head-on; the opposition against creatures with "Flying"; and the ability to create creature tokens.

Green spells often focus on growth, this being represented by gaining life points; generating extra quantities of mana; and directly obtaining land cards, thus allowing the player to cast their more expensive spells quicker than usual. Since Green magic revolves around natural order, many of its spells can destroy opposing artifacts and enchantments; notably, Green has the fewest cards having beneficial interactions with artifacts. Green's weaknesses include its inability to prevent non-combat-related attacks, namely actions that affect the hand, library, or graveyard; its one-track method of destroying enemy creatures through combat only; and its trouble stopping attacking creatures that have bypassed Green's own powerful creatures, beyond them being very little protection left.

The colors adjacent to each other on the pentagon are "allied" and often have similar, complementary abilities. For example, Blue has a relatively large number of flying creatures, as do White and Black, which are next to it. The two non-adjacent colors to a particular color are "enemy" colors, and are thematically opposed. For instance, Red tends to be very aggressive, while White and Blue are often more defensive in nature. The Research and Development (R&D) team at Wizards of the Coast aims to balance power and abilities among the five colors by using the "Color Pie" to differentiate the strengths and weaknesses of each. This guideline lays out the capabilities, themes, and mechanics of each color and allows for every color to have its own distinct attributes and gameplay. The Color Pie is used to ensure new cards are thematically in the correct color and do not infringe on the territory of other colors.

Multi-Coloured & Colourless

Multi-color cards were introduced in the Legends set and typically use a gold frame to distinguish them from mono-color cards. These cards require mana from two or more different colors to be played and count as belonging to each of the colors used to play them. Multi-color cards typically combine the philosophy and mechanics of all the colors used in the spell's cost, and tend to be proportionally more powerful compared to single-color or hybrid cards, as requiring multiple colors of mana makes them harder to cast. More recently, two-color "hybrid" cards were introduced in the Ravnica set, and appeared extensively throughout the Shadowmoor and Eventide sets. Hybrid cards are distinguished by a gradient frame with those two colors, and can be paid with either of the card's colors; for instance, a card with two hybrid-red/white icons can be cast using two red mana, two white mana, or one of each. Several sets have made multi-colored cards a theme, including Invasion, Shards of Alara, both Ravnica blocks and others. Core sets do not typically include multi-color cards in them, although the Core 2013 set was the first to do so.

Colourless or Devoid cards belong to no color, and most often appear in the form of Lands, Artifacts, or cards related to the Eldrazi creature type. Unlike the five colors, Colorless cards do not have a specific personality or style of play. Sometimes, colorless cards will imitate the mechanics of a particular color, though in a less-efficient manner than a similar colored card. Often colorless cards are linked to one or more colors via their abilities, through story references, or through flavor text on the cards themselves. With the Rise of the Eldrazi expansion, however, colorless cards that are neither artifacts nor lands have been introduced for the first time in larger quantities. These cards have been more recently featured in the Battle for Zendikar set that was released in 2015.

Black-Green Planeswalker Garryj, Apex Predator
Black-White Planeswalker Sorin
Blue-Red Planeswalker Ral Zarek
Blue-White Planeswalker Dovin Baan
Blue-Green Planeswalker Kiora, The Crashing Wave
Red-White Planeswalker Hautli, Warrior Poet
Colourless Eldrazi Warping Wail
Colourless Eldrazi Bane of Bala Ged
Colourless Eldrazi Emrakul, the Aeons Torn Legendary
Colourless Eldrazi Void Winnower
Colourless Eldrazi Ulamog's Crusher
Colourless Eldrazi Kozilek, Butcher of Truth

Luck vs. skill

Magic, like many other games, combines chance and skill. One frequent complaint about the game involves the notion that there is too much luck involved, especially concerning possessing too many or too few lands. Early in the game especially, too many or too few lands could ruin a player's chance at victory without the player having made a mistake. This in-game statistical variance can be minimized by proper deck construction, as an appropriate land count can reduce mana problems. In Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012, the land count is automatically adjusted to 40% of the total deck size.

A "mulligan" rule was introduced into the game, first informally in casual play and then in the official game rules. The most current mulligan rule allows players to shuffle an unsatisfactory opening hand back into the deck at the start of the game, draw a new hand with one fewer card, and repeat until satisfied, after which any player who has less than seven cards may look at the top card of his or her deck and either return it or put it at the bottom of the deck. In multiplayer, a player may take one mulligan without penalty, while subsequent mulligans will still cost one card (a rule known as "Partial Paris mulligan"). The original mulligan allowed a player a single redraw of seven new cards if that player's initial hand contained seven or zero lands. A variation of this rule called a "forced mulligan" is still used in some casual play circles and in multiplayer formats on Magic Online, and allows a single "free" redraw of seven new cards if a player's initial hand contains seven, six, one or zero lands.

Confessing his love for games combining both luck and skill, Magic creator Richard Garfield admitted its influence in his design of Magic. In addressing the complaint about luck influencing a game, Garfield points out that new and casual players tend to appreciate luck as a leveling field, in which a random effect increases their chances of winning. Meanwhile, a player with higher skills appreciates a game with less chance, as the higher degree of control increases their chances of winning. According to Garfield, Magic has and would likely continue decreasing its degree of luck as the game matured. The "Mulligan rule", as well as card design, past vs. present, are good examples of this trend. He feels that this is a universal trend for maturing games. Garfield explained using chess as an example, that unlike modern chess, in predecessors, players would use dice to determine which chess piece to move.

Organized Game Play

Magic tournaments regularly occur in gaming stores and other venues. Larger tournaments with hundreds of competitors from around the globe sponsored by Wizards of the Coast are arranged many times every year, with substantial cash prizes for the top finishers.[19] A number of websites report on tournament news, give complete lists for the most currently popular decks, and feature articles on current issues of debate about the game. The DCI, which is owned and operated by Wizards of the Coast, is the organizing body for sanctioned Magic events. The two major categories of tournament play are "Constructed" and "Limited".


In "Constructed" tournaments, each player arrives with a pre-built deck, which must have a minimum of sixty cards and follow other deck construction rules. The deck may also have up to a fifteen card sideboard, which allows players to modify their deck. Normally the first player to win two games is the winner of the match.

Different formats of Constructed Magic exist, each allowing different cards. The DCI maintains a "Banned and Restricted List" for each format; players may not use banned cards at all, and restricted cards are limited to one copy per deck. The DCI bans cards that it determines are damaging the health of a format; it seeks to use this remedy as infrequently as possible, and only a handful of cards have been banned in recent years.

  •  Block Constructed formats are defined by the cycle of three sets of cards in a given block. For example, the Ravnica block format consists of Ravnica: City of Guilds, Guildpact, and Dissension. Only cards that were printed in one of the sets in the appropriate block can be used in these formats.
  •     Standard, formerly known as Type 2, contains anywhere from five to eight sets. The Standard card pool undergoes a "rotation" once a year, usually in October, when older sets rotate out of the format and the fall set is released. As of 19 January 2018, the Standard card pool consists of Kaladesh, Aether Revolt, Amonkhet, Hour of Devastation, Ixalan, and Rivals of Ixalan, with seven cards banned. For the history of Standard, see Timeline of Magic: the Gathering Standard (Type II).
  •     Modern is a format that was first played at the Magic Online 2011 Community Cup, a response to players' desire for a non-rotating format that is more accessible to newer players. Wizards of the Coast introduced Modern as a legal format on August 12, 2011, and saw its first paper magic play at Pro Tour Philadelphia 2011. Modern consists of every block and core set using the modern card frame since the release of 8th Edition to the present. Certain cards that released in products that are not standard legal such as Planechase or Commander series cards, are not legal in Modern, even if they have the modern card frame.
  •     Legacy Is a format that allows every card ever printed except the Legacy banned list. It is distinguished from Vintage in that certain cards are banned for power reasons.
  •     Vintage, previously known as Type 1, is an Eternal format. The only banned cards in Vintage are cards using the "ante" mechanic and a few other cards that the DCI considers inappropriate for competitive Magic. Because of the expense in acquiring the scarce old cards to play competitive Vintage, some unsanctioned Vintage tournaments permit players to proxy a certain number of cards. Currently, the only format with a Restricted List is Vintage. Proxy cards are forbidden in DCI-sanctioned tournaments, except as replacements for damaged cards when created by the event judge.
  •     Commander (originally known as Elder Dragon Highlander or EDH) is a casual format, but can be played competitively. In this format each player constructs a 100 singleton deck that has a legendary creature that acts as a commander. The deck construction is limited to the colors that are represented by the chosen commander and there cannot be two or more cards with the same name with the exception of basic lands. The legendary creature chosen as commander is kept in a special "command zone" and may be cast at any time you can afford to cast the creature. If the commander card would enter any zone other than the battlefield from anywhere, its owner has the choice to return that card to the "command zone", where it can be cast again for an additional two generic mana to its regular cost. The banned list and unique rules are governed by an independent body (not by Wizards of the Coast). Wizards of the Coast releases pre-built commander decks on a yearly basis.


In "Limited" tournaments, players construct decks using booster packs plus any additional basic lands of their choice. The decks in Limited tournaments must be a minimum of forty cards. All unused cards function as the sideboard, which, as in "Constructed" formats, can be freely exchanged between games of a match, as long as the deck continues to adhere to the forty card minimum. The rule that a player may use only four copies of any given card does not apply.

Sealed Deck tournaments give each player six 15-card booster packs from which to build his or her deck.
Booster Draft is usually played with eight players. The players are seated around a table and each player is given three booster packs. Each player opens a pack, selects a card from it, and passes the remaining cards to the next player. Each player then selects one of the remaining cards from the pack he or she just received, and passes the remaining cards again. This continues until all of the cards are depleted. Players pass left for the first and third packs, and right for the second. Players then build decks out of any of the cards that they selected during the drafting. Talking, signaling, and showing cards is forbidden during the drafting process, except for double faced cards from the Innistrad and Shadows over Innistrad blocks and "Magic Origins", which cannot be hidden as each side of the physical card has a spell printed on it.

Other formats

Players often create their own formats based on any number of criteria. Sometimes these can be based on limiting the financial value of a deck, mixing and matching different blocks or sets, or taking an existing format and modifying the DCI Banned List. Commander (formerly Elder Dragon Highlander) was one such format, before being officially supported by wizards. One of the most popular player created formats for Limited is Cube Drafting. Similar in structure to Draft, players will instead use a collection of pre-selected cards instead of random boosters to draft from. Since 2014 player created formats are allowed as Friday Night Magic events, so long as they follow basic Magic Tournament Rules (no fake cards, no gambling etc.)

Tournament structure

The DCI maintains a set of rules for being able to sanction tournaments, as well as runs its own circuit. Local shops often offer "Friday Night Magic" tournaments as a stepping-stone to more competitive play. The DCI runs the Pro Tour as a series of major tournaments to attract interest. The right to compete in a Pro Tour has to be earned by either winning a Pro Tour Qualifier Tournament or being successful in a previous tournament on a similar level. A Pro Tour is usually structured into two days of individual competition played in the Swiss format. On the final day, the top eight players compete with each other in an elimination format to select the winner.

At the end of the competition in a Pro Tour, players are awarded Pro Points depending on their finishing place. If the player finishes high enough, they will also be awarded prize money. Frequent winners of these events have made names for themselves in the Magic community, such as Gabriel Nassif, Kai Budde and Jon Finkel. As a promotional tool, the DCI launched the Hall of Fame in 2005 to honor selected players.

At the end of the year the Magic World Championship is held. The World Championship functions like a Pro Tour, except that competitors have to present their skill in three different formats (usually Standard, booster draft and a second constructed format) rather than one. Another difference is that invitation to the World Championship can be gained not through Pro Tour Qualifiers, but via the national championship of a country. Most countries send their top four players of the tournament as representatives, though nations with minor Magic playing communities may send just one player. The World Championship also has a team-based competition, where the national teams compete with each other.

At the beginning of the World Championship, new members are inducted into the Hall of Fame. The tournament also concludes the current season of tournament play and at the end of the event, the player who earned the most Pro Points during the year is awarded the title "Pro Player of the Year". The player who earned the most Pro Points and did not compete in any previous season is awarded the title "Rookie of the Year".

Invitation to a Pro Tour, Pro Points and prize money can also be earned in lesser tournaments called Grand Prix that are open to the general public and are held more frequently throughout the year. Grand Prix events are usually the largest Magic tournaments, sometimes drawing more than 2,000 players. The largest Magic tournament ever held was Grand Prix: Las Vegas in June 2013 with a total of 4,500 players.