The Magic: The Gathering Game Rules



Object of the Game

Reduce your opponent’s life total to 0 before your opponent does the same to you! You also win if your opponent has to draw a card when none are left in his or her library.

Setup

You start the game with 20 life.

Roll dice (or flip a coin) to see which player gets to choose who goes first. Whoever goes first skips the first draw step (that player doesn’t get to draw a card). If you’ve just played a game, the loser of that game decides who goes first.

Shuffle your deck. Then you draw the top seven cards.

If you don’t like your starting hand, you can mulligan. When you mulligan, your hand is shuffled into your library and you draw a new hand of one less card. You can do this as many times as you want, but you draw one less card each time.

Once both players are satisfied with their starting hands, the game starts.

Key terms

Mana

Think of mana as Magic money. it’s what you use to pay most costs. Lands (and some other cards) make mana, which goes into your mana pool. Your mana pool is where mana is stored until you spend it.

Like money in your wallet, mana left in your mana pool will “burn a hole in your pocket.” At the end of each phase, you lose 1 life for each unused mana in your mana pool, and the mana disappears. This is called mana burn.

Each mana can either be one of the five Magic colors or colorless. When a cost requires colored mana, you’ll see colored mana symbols. When any kind of mana can be used to pay the cost, you’ll see a symbol with a number in it (like 2).

Permanent

Artifacts, creatures, and enchantments are put into play when they resolve. Lands also stay in play once you play them. These cards are called permanents because they stick around unless something removes them from play. (Instants and sorceries go to your graveyard when they resolve.)

Tapping

Tapping is the Magic game's way of showing that a card has been used. To tap a card, turn it sideways. At the beginning of each of your turns, you untap your tapped cards so you can use them again.

Target

When a spell or ability contains the word "target", you choose what the spell or ability will affect when you play it.

Card Types

Click here for more information about the cart types

Zones

Zone is the Magic word for an area of play. Cards can be in one of six different zones:


Spells

A card is a spell from the time it’s played until it resolves. When the spell resolves, it goes to its owner’s graveyard (if it’s an instant or sorcery) or is put into play (if it’s anything else). Even creature cards are spells while they’re being played. For example, when you play Spined Wurm, you’re actually playing a Spined Wurm spell. When the spell resolves, it puts the Spined Wurm creature into play (the spell becomes a permanent).

There’s one exception: land cards are never spells. They’re simply put into play.


Abilities

An ability is like a spell printed on a permanent. Many abilities have costs, and you play and resolve most of them just like spells. Once you play an ability, it doesn’t matter what happens to its source. If you play Crossbow Infantry’s ability and then the Infantry is destroyed, the ability will resolve anyway.

There are three types of abilities:

Activated ability.

You play an activated ability by paying its cost. All activated abilities have a colon (“:”) in them. The part before the colon is the activation cost. The part after the colon is the effect you get when you pay the activation cost. For example, “oT: Draw a card” means if you tap the permanent with the ability, you draw a card.

You can usually play activated abilities with oT in their costs only once a turn because you can’t tap a permanent if it’s tapped already. You can play an activated ability without oT in its cost as many times as you can pay the cost.

You can play an activated ability any time you could play an instant (whenever you have priority). It goes on the stack and waits to resolve just like an instant.

You can only play the activated abilities of permanents you control.

Triggered ability.

An ability that starts with the word “when,” “whenever,” or “at” is a triggered ability. You don’t play a triggered ability. It just goes on the stack automatically right after its trigger event occurs.

For example, Venerable Monk reads, “When Venerable Monk comes into play, you gain 2 life.” The trigger event is the Monk coming into play. When that happens, the Monk’s ability goes on the stack. When it resolves, you’ll gain 2 life (if you were the one who played the Monk).

You can’t choose to ignore or delay a triggered ability. If the trigger event occurs more than once, the ability goes on the stack once for each time the trigger event occurs.

Static ability.

You don’t play and resolve static abilities like the other two ability types. When a permanent with a static ability comes into play, the ability’s effect simply “turns on.” It stays on as long as the permanent stays in play.(Static abilities create continuous effects.)

Most enchantments have static abilities. For example, Telepathy reads, “Your opponents play with their hands revealed.” Once Telepathy is in play, you don’t have to pay a cost to have your opponent reveal his or her hand. Your opponent’s hand is just kept face up on the table until Telepathy leaves play.

How Do I Play a Spell or Activated Ability?

You can play spells and abilities only when:

Instants and activated abilities are the exception. You can play them on your opponent’s turn and when another spell or ability is on the stack waiting to resolve. You can play them whenever you have priority.

When do you get priority? The active player (the player whose turn it is) gets priority at the beginning of each step and each main phase—except for the untap step and the cleanup step.

When you get priority, you can play a spell or ability or pass. If you pass, your opponent gets priority. Also, after a spell or ability resolves, the active player gets priority again. When that player passes, the opponent gets priority again. This goes back and forth until both players pass in a row. (This isn’t really as complicated as it sounds. Just remember that you get the first chance to do things on your turn.)

To play a spell or ability, follow these steps:

  1. Tell your opponent what spell or ability you’re playing. If it’s a spell, show the card to your opponent.
  2. If the spell or ability uses the word “target,” choose the target(s). If the spell or ability’s text starts with “Choose one —”, make the choice. If the spell is an Aura enchantment, choose the permanent you want to attach it to.
  3. For a spell, pay the mana cost. For an activated ability, pay the activation cost. If the spell or ability has oX in its cost, you choose the value of X and then pay that amount of mana.
  4. That’s it! You’ve played the spell or ability and it goes on the stack. See “The Stack” and “How Do Spells and Abilities Resolve?” below to find out what happens to the spell or ability after you play it.

How Do I Play a Triggered Ability?

You don’t play triggered abilities. A triggered ability waits for its trigger event to happen. When it does, the ability goes on the stack automatically as soon as any player gets priority.

The player who controlled the permanent with the triggered ability makes the choices and picks the target(s) when the ability goes on the stack. Once the ability is on the stack, the player who would’ve gotten priority gets it back.

What happens if more than one ability triggers at the same time? The active player’s abilities are put on the stack, in whatever order that player chooses. Then the opponent’s abilities are put on the stack, in whatever order the opponent chooses.

How Do Spells and Abilities Resolve?

Each of the spell or ability’s targets is checked to see if it’s still a legal target. (If the spell or ability has no targets, skip this part.)

A target isn’t legal if it has left play. It also isn’t legal if it doesn’t match the requirements of the spell or ability anymore. If none of the spell or ability’s targets are legal when it tries to resolve, it’s countered. Otherwise, any illegal targets are just ignored when the spell or ability resolves.

2. The spell or ability’s effect happens. Do what the spell or ability says in the order it’s written. (Replacement effects may change what you do.) If the text tells you to make any choices other than targets and “Choose one —”, you make those choices.

3. For an ability, that’s it. For a spell, the card is put into play (for artifact, creature, and enchantment spells) or into its owner’s graveyard (for instant and sorcery spells) after its effect is carried out.

The Stack

The stack is where spells and abilities wait to resolve after they’ve been played. They stay on the stack in the order they were added to it.

How does it work? A player with priority plays a spell or ability, and it goes on the stack. That player can add more spells or abilities to the top of the stack or pass. If the player passes, the opponent gets priority and may add spells or abilities to the top of the stack or pass. Priority goes back and forth this way until both players pass in a row.

When both players pass, the spell or ability on the top of the stack—the one played last—resolves. After each spell or ability resolves, the active player gets priority again.

Here are some things that don’t go on the stack:


Effects

When a spell or ability resolves, it has an effect. There are four basic kinds of effects:

One-shot effect

One-shot effects do something once, such as deal damage or destroy a creature. For example, Tidings reads, “Draw four cards.” When it resolves, its effect is done.

Continuous effect

Continuous effects do something for some length of time.

A continuous effect from a spell, an activated ability, or a triggered ability lasts as long as the effect says it does. For example, Giant Growth reads, “Target creature gets +3/+3 until end of turn.” Its effect lasts from the time the spell resolves until the end of the turn.

A continuous effect from a static ability lasts as long as the permanent with the static ability is in play. For example, Unholy Strength reads, “Enchanted creature gets +2/+1.” Its effect on the enchanted creature lasts as long as it’s attached to that creature.

Replacement effect

Replacement effects wait for something to happen and then change it some how. They “replace” one effect with a different one. A replacement effect always uses the word “instead.”

For example, Furnace of Rath reads, “If a source would deal damage to a creature or player, it deals double that damage to that creature or player instead.” It waits for damage to be dealt to a creature or player, and then changes it so that twice that much damage is dealt.

Prevention effect

Prevention effects wait for something (usually damage) to happen and then keep it from happening. They always use the word “prevent.”

Prevention effects work like shields. Once the spell or ability that makes the effect resolves, the effect hangs around waiting for damage to be dealt. Then it stops some or all of it.

For example, Holy Day reads, “Prevent all combat damage that would be dealt this turn.” You can play Holy Day long before combat, and its effect will hang around for the rest of the turn. Then if creatures try to deal combat damage that turn, Holy Day prevents it.

Prevention “shields” stick around until they’re used up. For example, Master Healer reads, “oT: Prevent the next 4 damage that would be dealt to target creature or player this turn.” The ability creates an effect that stops up to 4 damage during the turn. If 1 damage is prevented, it can still prevent 3 more.


Game Play

Each turn has five phases. Each phase occurs even if nothing happens during it. At the end of each phase, you take mana burn if there’s mana left in your mana pool.

1. Beginning Phase

This phase has three steps:

a. Untap step

During your untap step, untap all your tapped cards. No one can play spells or abilities during this step.

b. Upkeep step

Abilities that trigger at the beginning of your upkeep go on the stack. Players can play instants and activated abilities during this step.

c. Draw step

The first thing you do during your draw step is draw a card. Then players can play instants and activated abilities.

2. Main Phase

You can play every type of spell and ability during this phase of your turn, but your opponent can play only instants and activated abilities. You can play a land during this phase, but remember that you can play only one land each turn.

3. Combat Phase

This phase has five steps:

a. Beginning of combat step

Players can play instants and activated abilities during this step, but they usually don’t.

b. Declare attackers step

You decide which of your creatures will attack. (You can decide not to attack at all.) When you declare that a creature is attacking, it becomes tapped.

Creatures with defender, creatures that are already tapped, and creatures you haven’t controlled since the beginning of the turn can’t attack.

Remember that your creatures can attack only your opponent. You can’t have them attack particular creatures. Once you’re done declaring attackers, players can play instants and activated abilities.

c. Declare blockers step

Your opponent decides which of his or her creatures will block your attacking creatures. Each blocking creature can block only one attacking creature, but your opponent can have two or more creatures gang up and block an attacking creature. Tapped creatures can’t block.

Once your opponent is done declaring blockers, players can play instants and activated abilities.

d. Combat damage step

This is when creatures actually deal their damage in combat.

Unblocked attackers deal damage equal to their power to the defending player. Blocked attackers deal their damage to the creatures blocking them. If more than one creature blocks one of your attackers, you decide how to divide the attacker’s damage among the blockers.

Blockers deal their damage to the creatures they’re blocking. If a creature has become tapped since it was declared as a blocker, it still deals damage normally.

If an attacking creature was blocked at the declare blockers step, it doesn’t deal any damage to the defending player. This is true even if all the blockers have left play.

Once you decide how combat damage will be dealt, the damage goes on the stack. After that, the damage is “locked in.” It will be dealt even if some of the creatures leave play.

Players may then play instants and activated abilities. Once these have all resolved, combat damage is actually dealt. If a creature tries to deal damage to a creature no longer in play, it can’t and the damage isn’t dealt.

e. End of combat step

Players can play instants and activated abilities during this step, but they usually have no reason to.

4. Main Phase (again)

Your second main phase is just like your first main phase. You can play every type of spell and ability, but your opponent can play only instants and activated abilities. Also, you can play a land during this phase if you didn’t during your first main phase.

5. End Phase

This phase has two steps:

a. End of turn step

Players can play instants and activated abilities during this step.

b. Cleanup step

If you have more than seven cards in your hand, choose and discard cards until you have only seven. Next, all damage on creatures is removed and all “until end of turn” effects end.

No one can play spells or abilities during this step unless an ability triggers during the step. That rarely happens.