Magic: The Gathering rules

Magic: The Gathering is a playing and collectible card game with extremely detailed and, at times, complex rules. A very good knowledge of the game's rules is absolutely necessary to play the game. The most important rule is that if the text on a card contradicts a game rule, the card text always takes precedence, making it an easy game to play.


Beginning and ending the game

Each player uses his or her own deck to play the game. In most formats, a deck must have a minimum of 60 cards; there is no maximum deck size. With the exception of basic lands, only four cards with the same name can be in a deck. Certain formats have exceptions or additional limitations to the above rules. In tournaments, players may be allowed the use of a fifteen card sideboard. Sideboard cards can be swapped for cards in the main deck in between games against the same opponent.

At the beginning of a game, each player shuffles his or her deck. Players then decide who will start, using any mutually agreeable method (flipping a coin, for example). Each player then draws seven cards from his or her library to form his or her starting hand. In turn order, each player may then decide to mulligan; that player shuffles his or her hand and library together and draws a new hand of one less card. A player can do this all the way down to a zero-card hand if he or she wishes, drawing one less card each time. In multiplayer games, players can mulligan for free one time, drawing seven cards a second time. Any further mulligans draw one card fewer each time, as normal.

A player wins the game by eliminating all opponents. Players begin the game with 20 life and lose when any of the following conditions are met:

  • That player has 0 or fewer life
  • That player is required to draw a card but has no cards left in his or her library
  • That player has 10 or more poison counters
  • Specific cards may also dictate (or prevent) other ways of winning or losing the game

Areas of play

At any given time, every card is located in one of the following "zones":

Library: A player's deck. These cards are kept face down and should be randomly ordered (shuffled) to begin the game.

Hand: A player's hand of cards that can be played. They are kept hidden from other players. If a player has more than seven cards in hand at the end of his or her turn, any extras must be discarded.

Battlefield: Most cards need to enter the battlefield to have an effect in the game. Unlike other zones, the battlefield is shared by all players.

Graveyard: A player's discard pile. When a card on the battlefield is destroyed, a card is discarded from hand, or after a single-use card is used, it is put in its owner's graveyard. These cards are face up, and can be examined by any player at any time.

The stack: This is the place for cards that have been cast, but have not yet resolved. While on the stack, they are called "spells." This zone is also shared by all players. See the stack.

Exile: Cards that have been exiled by a certain effect wind up here. Unless a card says otherwise, cards in this zone are face-up. Comparatively few cards and abilities can affect cards in the exile zone.

Command: Used mainly in some variant formats of play, cards that have a special status or abilities within the game are kept here. Examples are the "scheme" cards used in Archenemy or "plane" cards used for a Planechase game. Cards in the Command Zone can be affected by virtually nothing that affects cards in the other zones.

Paying costs

Tapping and untapping

Many abilities, for instance using a land for mana, as well as some spells, require the player to tap a permanent as part of their cost. To indicate that a card in play has been tapped, it is turned sideways. An ability or spell that requires tapping cannot be used if the permanent is already tapped. Furthermore, tapped creatures cannot enter into combat.

Instead of a cost, tapping can also be the effect of a spell or ability. In such a case, it makes no difference if that permanent was already tapped. A creature that attacks also gets tapped, unless it has vigilance, but a defending creature does not. Unless stated otherwise, tapping does not stop continuous abilities (e.g. enchantments or equipments) or triggered abilities from taking effect, nor does it disallow the use of abilities that do not require tapping.

At the beginning of each player's turn, that player untaps all cards he or she controls and returns them to their original orientation, ready to get tapped again.


When a card that produces mana is tapped for mana, that mana is put in his or her "mana pool". There are five colors of mana: white, blue, black, red and green; mana can also be colorless.

Mana in the mana pool can be used to pay costs. For example, a player plays a Swamp, then taps that swamp to add 1 black mana to his mana pool. Then, he uses that mana to cast Dark Ritual. Dark Ritual adds 3 black mana to that player's mana pool. He then uses two black mana to cast Night's Whisper, which costs 1 generic and 1 black mana (1B). The player has now used two of the three black mana in his mana pool. The one left over is "floating" meaning it can be used any time during that main phase.

Mana costs and colors

Most cards other than lands have a mana cost. This is the amount of mana that must be spent to cast that card as a spell. Each mana symbol in the top right corner of the card represents one mana of that color that must be paid. A number in a gray circle next to the mana symbols represents how much additional generic mana must be paid; this additional mana can be of any color or colorless. For example, the cards Underworld Dreams, Hypnotic Specter, Warpath Ghoul and Whispersilk Cloak all cost three mana. However, the first card requires three black mana, while the last can be paid for with three mana of any color or combination of colors. The middle two cards require two and one mana, respectively, that must be black; the remainder can be any color. Note that the first three cards are black, but Whispersilk Cloak is colorless.

Some cards may require their owner to pay mana of two or more colors. These cards are multicolored. Some multicolored cards also use hybrid mana, which can be paid with one of two different colors. For example, the card Golgari Guildmage can be cast by spending either two black, two green, or one black and one green mana. Some cards have costs which can be paid with any color of mana, but are cheaper when a color requirement is met. For example, Beseech the Queen costs either three black mana, two black and two other, one black and four other, or six mana of any color. In all cases, a card's color is determined by the mana symbols in its cost, and not by the specific mana used to cast it.


There are three main types of abilities that cards on the battlefield, or "permanents," may have: activated abilities, triggered abilities, and static abilities.

Activated abilities are abilities of a card that are always written in the form "{Cost}: {Effect}". Paying the cost allows a player to produce the effect. Costs may include paying mana, tapping the card, discarding cards, or other things. Like instants, these abilities can be activated any time in the game unless otherwise stated (see timing and the stack). Activated abilities, like instants, go on the stack.

Triggered abilities look for a particular event, time, or game state, and then produce an effect when that occurs. These abilities contain a trigger condition (which will use one of the words "when", "whenever", or "at"), usually at the start of the ability, and then an effect. Whenever the trigger condition is met, these abilities are automatically "triggered", then go on the stack and resolve like other spells and abilities. The card may also lay out additional conditions that must be met for the effect to occur (using the word "if"). Note that abilities starting with "as" or "if" are not triggered abilities and therefore do not use the stack. If multiple triggered abilities' conditions are met at the same time, those controlled by the active player (the player whose turn it is) are put on the stack first. Each player chooses the order in which his or her triggered abilities are put on the stack.

Static abilities are general effects that alter cards on the battlefield, or the rules of the game. If an ability is not activated or triggered, it is static. These abilities are always "on". Static abilities only work while the card is on the battlefield, unless otherwise stated or if the ability only makes sense if it applies from a different zone. For example, a card that refers to casting itself from the graveyard will only work from the graveyard; one that refers to casting any other card from the graveyard will not. A static ability takes effect as soon as the card enters the battlefield. Once the card leaves the battlefield, the ability stops working. Static abilities never use the stack, although they may change the game state and trigger triggered abilities.

Types of cards

All objects that remain on the battlefield are called permanents. Types of permanents include lands, creatures, enchantments, artifacts, and planeswalkers. In contrast, sorceries and instants go to the graveyard immediately after they are used.


Land cards tap to produce mana that is used to cast spells and activate abilities. They cost no mana to play; however, a player may play no more than one land per turn, and only during the main phase of his or her own turn. There are five types of basic lands, one for each color. These lands can each be tapped to produce one mana of the appropriate color. Other lands are non-basic and may produce other combinations or amounts of mana, or may have other abilities. Lands are not spells and cannot be countered. Lands are colorless, regardless of what colors of mana they may produce. Playing a land does not use the stack and therefore occurs immediately, with no way for any player to stop it. Players are allowed to have any number of basic lands in a deck, but nonbasic lands follow the usual restriction of four copies of any one card per deck.


Creatures represent people or beasts that are summoned to the battlefield to attack opposing players and defend their controller from the attacks of enemy creatures. They normally cannot attack or use an ability with the "tap symbol" on the first turn they enter the battlefield. This is known as "summoning sickness." Creatures have two values that represent their strength in combat, printed on the lower right-hand corner of the card. The first number is the creature's power, the amount of damage it deals in combat. The second number is its toughness; if it receives that much damage in a single turn, the creature is destroyed and placed in the graveyard.

Creatures usually have one or more creature types, located after the word "creature" in the type line. Creature types are simply markers and have no inherent abilities; for example, having the Bird type does not automatically give a creature the "flying" ability. Some non-creature cards have the "Tribal" type, which allows them to have creature types without being creatures themselves.


Enchantments represent persistent magical effects; they are spells that remain on the battlefield and alter some aspect of the game.

Some enchantments are attached to other cards on the battlefield (often creatures); these are known as Auras. They describe what they can be attached to in their "Enchant <something>" ability. For example, an Aura with "Enchant green creature" can only be attached to a green creature. If the card an Aura is attached to leaves the battlefield, or stops matching the Enchant ability, the Aura goes to the graveyard.


Artifacts represent magical items, animated constructs, pieces of equipment, or other objects and devices. Like enchantments, artifacts remain on the battlefield until something removes them. Many artifacts are also creatures; artifact creatures may attack and block as other creatures, and are only affected by things that affect creatures.

Some artifacts are Equipment. Equipment cards enter the battlefield just like any other artifact, but may be attached to creatures using their Equip ability (equip only as a sorcery (i.e. only during your main phase)), though it may not be "unequipped". Unlike Auras,if an Equipment is attached to a creature and the creature is destroyed, the Equipment stays on the battlefield, and may later be attached to a different creature.


Planeswalkers are extremely powerful spellcasters that can be called upon for aid. According to Magic lore, the player is a "planeswalker," a wizard of extraordinary power who can travel ("walk") between different realms or universes ("planes"); as such, planeswalker cards are meant to represent scaled-down versions of other players, with their decks represented by the card's abilities, and originally were designed to move through a roster of effects without player control, as though they had a mind of their own.[1] Each planeswalker has a planeswalker type, which is a truncated version of his or her name. Only one planeswalker of each type may be on the battlefield at one time. If two planeswalkers with the same type are on the battlefield, both are put into their owner's graveyards.

Planeswalkers' abilities are based on their loyalty, which is tracked with counters. The number printed in the lower right corner indicates how many loyalty counters the planeswalker enters the battlefield with. Planeswalkers' loyalty abilities each have a positive or negative loyalty cost; this is how many counters must be added (if positive) or removed (if negative) to activate that ability. Abilities with negative loyalty costs may only be activated if there are enough loyalty counters to remove. Regardless of the loyalty costs, a single planeswalker may only use one loyalty ability once per turn, and only on its controller's turn during his or her main phase.[2]

Note that planeswalkers are neither creatures nor players, so most spells and abilities cannot target them directly. There are, however, two ways to deal damage to a planeswalker. If a player uses any spell or ability that would deal damage to an opponent, the player may instead choose to deal the damage to one of that opponent's planeswalkers. Additionally, if a player attacks an opponent who controls a planeswalker, the player may declare any or all of the attacking creatures to be attacking the planeswalker instead. Those creatures may be blocked normally, but if not blocked deal damage to the planeswalker instead of the player. Whenever damage is dealt to a planeswalker, that many loyalty counters are removed from it. A planeswalker with no loyalty counters, either through use of its abilities or through damage, is put into its owner's graveyard.

Sorceries and instants

Sorceries and instants both represent one-shot or short-term magical spells. They never enter the battlefield. Instead, they take effect and then are immediately put into their owner's graveyard.

Sorceries and instants differ only in when they can be cast. Sorceries may only be cast during the player's own main phase, and only when the stack is empty. Instants, on the other hand, can be cast at almost any time, including during other players' turns and while another spell or ability is waiting to resolve (see timing and the stack).

Parts of a turn

Beginning phase

The beginning phase is composed of three parts, or "steps." The first thing a player does is untap all cards he or she controls in the "untap step." Then, any abilities that trigger on the "upkeep step" happen. These often include cards that require mana payments every turn. Then the player draws a card in the "draw step." In two-player games, the player who takes the first turn does not draw a card for that turn.

No player receives priority during the untap step, meaning that no cards or abilities can be played at that time. During the upkeep and draw steps, however, players can cast instants and activate abilities as normal.

First main phase

Most of the game's actions happen during the main phase. With the exception of instants and cards with flash, most cards can only be played or cast during a player's main phase.

Combat phase

The combat phase is split into five steps. It represents a point in the magical duel where the active player sends his or her creatures to attack the opposing player, in the hopes of doing damage to the player or the player's creatures. Except for instants, players may not cast spells during combat. Instants and activated abilities, however, may be cast or activated during each step.

Beginning of combat

Nothing normally happens in the beginning of combat step: this step only exists to allow players to cast spells and activate abilities that may alter how combat progresses. For example, only untapped creatures may attack, so the defender might cast an instant or activate an ability that will tap a creature, preventing it from attacking.

Declare attackers

The player whose turn it is declares which creatures he or she controls will attack the opponent, and/or a planeswalker, directly. In most cases, creatures that are tapped, or that entered the battlefield this turn (have "summoning sickness") may not attack; attacking usually causes a creature to become tapped. Declared attackers can no longer activate abilities until the attack step is over

Declare blockers

Once the attacking player declares attackers, the defending player chooses which creatures he or she will block with. A creature must be untapped in order for it to block. Unlike attacking, the act of blocking does not cause the blocking creatures to tap, and creatures with summoning sickness can block. Each creature can only block a single attacker(unless specifically indicated on the card, such as: Two-Headed Giant of Foriys), although multiple creatures can be used to block a single attacking creature. In this case, the attacker chooses the order of the blocking creatures. The ordering becomes relevant in the combat damage step.

Combat damage

Attacking creatures that weren't blocked deal damage equal to their power to the player(s) or planeswalker(s) they attacked; the amount of damage dealt is deducted from the player's life total or the planeswalker's loyalty counters. Attacking creatures that were blocked deal damage equal to their power to the creature or creatures that blocked them, and blocking creatures deal damage equal to their power to the attacking creature they blocked. If a creature is blocked by multiple creatures, the player that controls the attacking creature must follow the order above, one by one, deals lethal damage(NOTE: attacker with deathtouch ability can use only 1 damage to be lethal) to the front and then hit the next. An attacker that is blocked, but whose blocker is removed from combat before this step, stays blocked and deals no combat damage. If a creature is dealt damage equal to or greater than its toughness, it is destroyed and is put into its owner's graveyard.

If creatures with first strike or double strike are involved in combat, an extra combat damage step is created, and their damage is dealt first. If a creature without first strike is destroyed by first strike damage, it will not deal combat damage afterward.

End of combat

Like the beginning of combat, nothing normally happens during this step. Players have a chance to cast instants and activate abilities after combat, but before the main part of the player's turn starts again.

Second main phase

After the combat phase there is another main phase, identical to the first.

Ending phase

The ending phase has two steps: "end step" and "cleanup". During the end step, abilities that trigger "at the beginning of the end step" go on the stack. This is normally the last chance players have to cast instants or activate abilities this turn.

Then, during the cleanup step, the player whose turn it is discards down to his or her maximum hand size, normally seven cards. Effects that last "until end of turn" or "this turn" wear off, and all damage is removed from creatures still on the battlefield.

Timing and the stack

The most versatile aspect of Magic is that after most spells and abilities are cast or activated, but before they actually take effect ("resolve"), all players get a chance to "respond" to them. This means they can cast a different spell or activate another ability that will resolve first, often either invalidating or reinforcing the effect of the first spell. The mechanism that accomplishes this is called "the stack." It is where spells and abilities go to wait for any responses that may get played.

Spells that are permanents that end up on the battlefield; sorcery spells; and abilities that say "activate this ability only any time you could cast a sorcery" cannot be cast or activated as responses. They can only be cast or activated when the stack is empty, only on the turn of whoever casts or activates them, and only in a main phase. In contrast, activated abilities, instant spells, and spells that have the ability flash can be played on anybody's turn and in most steps of the game, go on the stack "on top of" anything that is already there, and will resolve first. Many players refer to this difference as "speed," but that is a misleading term, because neither is "faster" than the other; the only difference is when they can be played.

Playing lands, most abilities that produce mana, and certain other special actions do not use the stack; they bypass the rules below and take effect immediately.

The stack

This mechanic is nearly identical to the concept of a stack in computer science.

When a player casts a spell or activates an ability, it does not immediately take effect. Instead, it is placed on the stack. That player then receives priority again, which gives him or her a chance to respond to it with spells or abilities. Each new spell or ability is put on top of the stack in turn, with the newest on top and the oldest at the bottom. A player with priority can add as many spells or abilities to the stack as he or she can pay for, but is not required to; if a player declines to respond to the latest spell or ability, he or she "passes priority" to the next player in turn order.

When all players have passed priority in succession, the top-most spell or ability on the stack resolves. If it was a sorcery, instant, or ability, the player carries out the instructions; if it would create a permanent, it enters the battlefield. Every time a spell or ability finishes resolving, players (starting with the player whose turn it is) can once again add more to the stack; if they don't, the new top-most spell or ability will resolve.

When the stack is empty, the player whose turn it is gets priority first. If all players pass priority while the stack is empty, the game proceeds to the next step or phase of the turn.


Alice is attacking Norman with a Hill Giant, a 3/3 creature (meaning it has 3 power and 3 toughness). Norman chooses to block with his Grizzly Bears, a weaker 2/2 creature. If nothing else happened, the Hill Giant would deal 3 damage to the Grizzly Bears and kill them, while the Bears would deal 2 damage to the Giant, making Hill Giant "the winner".

However, Norman decides to cast his Giant Growth spell to give +3/+3 to his Grizzly Bears before combat damage is dealt. He taps a Forest to pay for the spell, and puts Giant Growth on the stack. Alice, who does not want to give the Grizzly Bears a chance to grow to 5/5 and kill her Hill Giant, responds by casting Shock targeting the Grizzly Bears. She taps one Mountain to pay for the spell, and puts Shock on the stack on top of Giant Growth. If Norman had no other spells, then Alice's Shock would resolve first and deal 2 damage to the Grizzly Bears, killing them. His Giant Growth would then go to the graveyard with no effect because the Bears would no longer be on the battlefield and would thus be an illegal target. Fortunately for Norman, he has another spell to cast. He taps a Plains and casts Mending Hands targeting his Grizzly Bears. Now Mending Hands is on top of the stack, with Shock and then Giant Growth beneath it.

Since both players are out of spells to cast, the top spell on the stack resolves. Mending Hands creates a "damage prevention shield" that will prevent up to 4 points of damage to Norman's Bears, and is put into Norman's graveyard after it resolves. Neither player chooses to cast anything else at this point, so Alice's Shock resolves. It attempts to deal 2 damage to Grizzly Bears, but Norman's Mending Hands prevents the damage, and Shock is put into Alice's graveyard. Finally, Norman's Giant Growth resolves and makes Grizzly Bears a 5/5 creature until end of turn. Giant Growth then goes to Norman's graveyard.

Once combat damage is dealt, the now 5/5 Grizzly Bears deal 5 damage to the Hill Giant and easily kills it. Hill Giant attempts to deal 3 damage to the Grizzly Bears, but the remainder of Norman's damage prevention shield prevents a further 2 damage (totaling 4 damage) and Grizzly Bears only takes 1 damage.

When Alice's turn ends, the single point of damage is removed from the Grizzly Bears, and the Giant Growth effect wears off at the same time. As Norman's turn begins, his Grizzly Bears are undamaged and 2/2.


Certain spells (and abilities) allow a player to counter other spells (or abilities). These spells must be cast while the spells they will affect are still on the stack. If a spell is countered, it is moved from the stack to its owner's graveyard when counterspell resolves. It does not resolve, and has no effect unless the card states otherwise. If the spell would create a permanent, it never enters the battlefield. Some spells state that they cannot be countered.

There is one other way for a spell to be countered. If the spell targets something (such as Giant Growth or Shock), then the target must be legal both when the spell is cast and when it resolves. A spell can't be cast without a legal target; if the target becomes illegal while the spell is on the stack, then the spell is countered by the game rules (for having an illegal target) just before it would start to resolve. If a spell is countered this way, then no part of the spell — even a non-targeting part of the spell's effect — takes place.

If a spell has multiple targets, then all of them must be legal for it to be cast, and all must be illegal for the spell to be countered. For example, the card Reckless Spite destroys two target nonblack creatures, but its controller will lose 5 life. If there is only one legal target for Reckless Spite, then it cannot be cast. If one legal target becomes an illegal target before Reckless Spite resolves, for instance, if an instant is cast that grants shroud to that creature, the other will still be destroyed and Reckless Spite's caster will lose 5 life. If they are both made illegal targets, then the entire spell is countered.

Keyword abilities

Some cards have abilities that are not fully explained on the card. These are known as "keyword" abilities, and consist of a word or phrase whose meaning is defined by the rules. Keyword abilities are usually given reminder text in the set in which they are introduced. There are over forty such abilities. In most cases, multiple instances of the same keyword on an object have no additional effect.

Some of the most notable keyword abilities include flying (a creature can't be blocked except by other creatures with flying or reach), haste (a creature can attack and tap on the first turn it is summoned), and protection (the card can't be damaged, enchanted, blocked, or targeted by cards bearing the indicated attribute).


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