Magic: The Gathering Wiki

Magic: The Gathering is a collectable card game with extremely detailed, and at times, complex rules.

However, only a basic understanding of the rules is 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. Magic: The Gathering is thus constantly breaking its own rules, making it a challenging and intricate game.

Zones: Areas of Play[]

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


A player's deck. These cards are kept face down and should be randomly ordered (which means, shuffled at the beginning of the game). It must contain at least 60 cards in Constructed play, or at least 40 cards in Limited play. There is no maximum deck size, although there may only be 4 of any nonbasic land card. It is recommended to have 25 land, basic or nonbasic, and 35 spells (creatures, instants, sorceries, artifacts, enchantments and planeswalkers).


A player's discard pile. When a card in play is destroyed, or an instant or sorcery is taken off the stack, it is put in its owner's graveyard. These cards are face up, and can be examined by any player at any time. Several cards, like Disentomb or Rise from the Grave, allow you to take cards from a graveyard and return them to your hand, on the battlefield, or somewhere in your library.


A player's hand of cards. They are normally kept hidden from other players; however, cards like Telepathy and a number of "discard" spells can allow players to look at some or all of the cards in other players' hands. The number of cards each player has is public. If you have more than 7 cards in your hand at the end of your turn, you must discard until you have only 7 cards in your hand; as always, cards like the Artifact Spellbook can override this.


This is the place for cards that have been cast but not yet resolved. Activated abilities and triggered abilities also go on the stack until they resolve. This zone is shared by all players. See the stack.


Most cards need to enter the battlefield before they can affect the game. All players share a single battlefield. All permanents stay on the battlefield unless effects or the rules instruct players to remove them.


This is where cards that have been exiled are placed: to exile a card means to take it from its current zone and place it in this zone. The text of a card may specify that a card is exiled face-down; if it does not, the card is exiled face-up. Some examples of cards that exile other cards are Iona's Judgement and Celestial Purge. Some cards, Journey to Nowhere and Oblivion Ring being two examples, exile cards, but later return them to the battlefield.


This is a special exile zone exclusively when the card "AWOL" targets an attacking creature.


The command zone is a game area reserved for certain specialized objects that can affect the game, but are not permanents or cards in exile.  This includes schemes, planes, emblems and Commanders.

Beginning and Ending the Game[]

At the beginning of a game, each player shuffles his or her deck. A randomly selected player decides which player will take the first turn. The players then draw seven cards each to form their starting hand. Each player may then decide to mulligan; that player shuffles his or her hand and library together and draws a new hand, but with one less card than before (six). A player can do this as many times as he or she wishes, drawing one less card each time (five, four, etc).

In two-player games, the player who takes the first turn does not draw a card for that turn, but the others do. In multiplayer games, everyone draws on their first turn.

A player wins the game by eliminating all opponents. Players begin the game with 20 life; if a player's life total is reduced to zero or less, he or she loses the game. Additionally, if a player is required to draw a card but has no cards left in his or her library, he or she loses. If a player has 10 or more poison counters, he or she loses the game. Specific cards, like Felidar Sovereign or Door to Nothingness, may dictate other ways of winning or losing.

Tapping, Untapping, and Mana[]

Tapping and Untapping[]

Tapped is a status a permanent can have. Tapped cards are turned sideways to indicate that you are attacking the creatures or creature on the battlefield. They may not be further tapped. At the beginning of each player's turn, that player untaps all cards he or she controls and returns them to their original orientation. The mechanic restricts the number of times a permanent can be used for certain things in a turn cycle. Untapping occurs before a card is drawn from the library at the beginning of the turn and before abilities that reference the Upkeep step are handled. Cards dealt in the battlefield must be in tapped or untapped position, if untapped, creatures are in blocking formation.

Mana Cost and Colors[]

The vast majority of nonland cards have a mana cost. This is the amount of mana that must be spent to pay for the card. Each mana symbol in the top right corner of the card represents one mana of that color that must be paid. There may be a number in a gray circle next to the mana symbols. This represents how much additional mana must be paid; this additional mana can be of any color or colorless.

For example, the cards below all cost 3 mana. However, the card on the left requires three black mana, while the card on the right can be paid for with three mana of any color or combination of colors. The middle two cards require, respectively, 2 mana and 1 mana that must be black; the remainder can be any color. Note that the first three cards are black, but Disrupting Scepter is colorless.

Some cards may require their owner to pay mana of two or more colors. These cards have multiple colors, and they are called multi-colored. Some cards also use hybrid mana symbols: a hybrid mana symbol looks like one kind of mana symbol in its top-left and another kind of mana symbol in its bottom-left half. A cost represented by a hybrid mana symbol can be satisfied by paying whatever is normally required of either half of the symbol. For example, the card Deathrite Shaman can be played by spending either one black mana, or one green mana. Cards with hybrid mana symbols in their mana costs, like traditional "gold" (so-called because of the color of their border on the card) multi-colour cards, are always all of the colors that appear in their mana symbols: so Deathrite Shaman is always green and black regardless of what was spent to cast it.

Some nonland cards have a mana cost of zero, indicated by a number 0 in a grey circle - these have a mana cost that requires no mana to cast. The most famous of these is Black Lotus. The most recently reprinted is Tormod's Crypt (in M13). These cards are generally colorless.

Finally there are seven nonland cards with a blank mana cost. These are:

A blank mana cost represents an unpayable cost, and cannot be cast without using an alternate cost (such as the one offered by the Suspend ability). These cards are given colors by the Color Indicator on the card.


There are four main types of abilities:

Activated Abilities are abilities of a card that the controller of the card must pay to activate. These abilities are always written in the form "{Cost}: {Effect}". Paying the cost allows a player to cause the effect to happen. Costs may include paying mana, tapping the card, discarding cards, or other things. These abilities can typically be activated any time a player has priority (see timing and the stack).

Triggered Abilities are not used by any player, but simply look for a particular event, time, or game state, and then produce an effect when that event/time/state 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, the card produces the effect. The card may also lay out additional conditions that must be met for the effect to occur (using the word "if").

Triggered Abilities automatically happen whenever their condition is met. They go on the stack and resolve like other spells and abilities. 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, in whatever order he or she chooses; then all of the other players place, in turn order, the triggered abilities they control on the stack also in whatever order the controller chooses.

Spell Abilities are the texts of instants and sorceries that describe the effect of the spell. For example, the ability on Lightning Shock ("Lightning Shock deals 3 damage to target creature or player") is a spell ability.

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

Types of Cards[]


Land cards often have an activated ability that allows their controller to tap them for mana. They cost no mana to play; however, a player may typically play no more than one land on each of his or her turns. There are five types of basic lands, one for each colour. Each basic land has a basic land type. Any land which has a basic land type can be tapped to produce one mana of the color associated with that basic land type. You may have as many basic lands in your deck as you desire. A land which isn't basic is referred to as a  "non-basic land" and may produce other combinations or amounts of mana, or may have other abilities.


Creatures represent people or beasts that are summoned to attack opposing players and defend their controller from the attacks of enemy creatures. They are summoned by casting them as a spell that then becomes a permanent on the battlefield. Creatures have two numbers associated with them that represent their strength in combat: power and toughness. These values are printed on the lower right-hand corner of the card, with a slash separating them. The first number is the creature's power; it represents the amount of damage it deals in combat. The second number is its toughness; if it receives that much damage in a single turn, it is destroyed and placed in the graveyard. Creatures cannot attack or be used to pay costs represented by the tap symbol or the untap symbol unless their current controller has controlled them continuously since the beginning of that player's most recent turn. This rule is informally called "summoning sickness". Creatures often have one or more creature types, seperated from the word "creature" in their type line by a long dash. Each single word represents a seperate creature type and a creature is always considered to be all of its types.


Enchantments represent persistent magical or mystical 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. If the card have an Aura is attached to leaves the battlefield, the Aura goes to the graveyard.

Enchantments auras can also effect multiple creatures at once such as Echoing Courage this card gives +2/+2 to a creature you choose and every other creature with the same name.


Artifacts represent magical items, animated constructs, pieces of equipment, or other objects and devices. Like other permanents, artifacts remain on the battlefield until something removes them. Artifacts are distinct from other cards in that they are colorless, and can be cast using any color or colors of mana.

Many artifacts are also creatures; they may attack and defend as other creatures, and are affected by anything that affects either artifacts or 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. Unlike Auras, however, if an Equipment is attached to a creature and the creature leaves the battlefield, the Equipment stays on the battlefield.

Sorceries and Instants[]

Sorceries and instants both represent one-shot or short-term magical spells. They never enter the battlefield. Instead they are cast as a spell, have their effect when they resolve, and then are immediately put into the player's graveyard.

Sorceries and instants differ only in when they can be cast. Sorceries can be cast during the player's main phase, and only when nothing else is on the stack. Instants, on the other hand, can be cast any time a player has priority, including during other player's turns and while another spell or ability is waiting to resolve (see timing and the stack).

The Parts of a Turn[]

Beginning Phase[]

The beginning phase is composed of three parts.*

1. Untap all cards he or she controls.
2. Any abilities that trigger on the "upkeep step" happen. These often include cards that require mana payments every turn.
3. The player draws a card or until you have 7 cards (only in Mana Rush.)


If there are two people playing, the player who takes the first turn does not draw a card on the first turn as a balancing factor. If there are more than two, this rule does not apply.

Main Phase[]

Most of the game's actions happen during the main phase. With the exception of Instants, cards can only be played during a player's main phase. There are two main phases each turn: one before and one after the combat phase.

Combat Phase[]

The combat phase is split up into steps. Except for instants, players may not play cards during combat. However, instants may be cast and abilities may be activated before and after each step.


The player whose turn it is may attack another player with creatures he or she controls. Creatures that are tapped or that were played this turn may not attack. Attacking causes a creature to become tapped. A player can attack with as many creatures as he or she wants; they all tap and attack at the same time.


The player being attacked may block the attacking creatures with his or her own creatures, but is not required to do so. Tapped creatures cannot block, but blocking doesn't tap a creature. Each creature may only block one attacking creature, but multiple creatures may all block the same attacker. As with attacking creatures, blocking creatures all block at the same time.


Attacking creatures that weren't blocked deal damage equal to their power to the player they attacked; the amount of damage caused is deducted from the player's life total. (Or added to the players poison counter total, in the case of infect.) 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 could deal damage to several creatures that blocked it, the player that controls the attacking creature chooses how to distribute the damage. The attacking player must assign lethal damage (that is, damage equal to the blocker's toughness) to the one blocker before he/she can assign more damage to another blocker; this continues for each blocker (1 point of damage from a creature with deathtouch is considered lethal damage). An attacker that is blocked, but whose blocker is removed from combat before this time deals no damage at all. If a creature is dealt as much or more damage than its toughness, it is destroyed and must be put in its controller's graveyard.
Combat damage does not use the stack.

Second Main Phase[]

End Phase[]

The end phase has two steps: "Endstep" and "Cleanup". During the first, abilities that trigger "at end of turn" take place. Then, during the cleanup step, the player whose turn it is discards down to 7 cards(unless playing Mana Rush). Effects that last "until end of turn" or "this turn" wear off, and non-lethal damage is removed from creatures. Players may play instants or abilities during the end step, but not during the cleanup step.

End Draw Phase (Mana Rush only)[]

Draw cards until you have 7 cards in your hand. If you have 7 or more cards already skip this step

Timing and the Stack[]


Priority in Magic is essentially the ability to act: nearly every action a player may want to take in a game can only be taken when that player "has priority". In a turn, the active player is always the first to receive priority and he or she retains priority until he or she explicitly passes it. Then the player who succeeds him or her in turn order receives priority until that player passes it and so on until every player has received priority. If all players have passed in succession without performing any game actions, the top object of the stack resolves or, if the stack is empty, the current phase or step of the turn ends and the game passes to the next one.

Priority is also used to describe the two kinds of times at which players may take actions. Actions that are described as allowable "when a player could cast a sorcery" mean that action can only be taken when that player has priority during a main phase of his or her turn and while the stack is empty. Game actions that don't use that description can be taken whenever a player merely has priority.

The Stack[]

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

When a player casts a spell, it does not immediately take effect. Instead, it is placed on the stack, and each player has a chance to respond to it with Instant spells or activated 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. Once each player finishes adding objects to the stack, he or she passes priority to the next player. If every player has passed priority once without performing an action or adding a object to the stack, the top object of the stack resolves. If it was a sorcery, instant, or ability, the player carries out the instructions; if it was a creature, enchantment, or artifact, it is put onto the battlefield. Every time a spell or ability resolves, players once again receive priority and can add more objects to the stack, if they wish.


Alice is attacking Bob with a Hill Giant, a 3/3 creature (meaning it has 3 power and 3 toughness). Bob 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, which would survive.

However, Bob decides to play his Giant Growth spell on his Grizzly Bears before combat damage is dealt. He taps a forest to pay for the spell, and puts it 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 playing Shock. She taps one mountain, casts Shock, tells Bob she is targeting the Grizzly Bears, and puts Shock on the stack on top of Giant Growth.

If Bob 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 in play and would thus be an illegal target. Fortunately for Bob, he has another spell to play. He taps a plains and plays Mending Hands on 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, they both pass priority without doing anything. Mending Hands is the top object of the stack so it resolves: its effect creates a "damage shield" that can prevent up to 4 points of damage dealt to the Grizzly Bears, the card is then put into Bob's graveyard. Both players pass priority again, so the new top object Shock resolves. It attempts to deal 2 damage to Grizzly Bears, but Mending Hands' damage shield prevents the damage, and Shock is put into Alice's graveyard. Finally, both players pass priority one more time and the final object Giant Growth resolves and makes Grizzly Bears a 5/5 creature until end of turn. Giant Growth is put into Bob's graveyard.

Once combat damage is dealt, the now 5/5 Grizzly Bears will deal 5 damage to the Hill Giant and destroy it. Hill Giant will attempt to deal 3 damage to the Grizzly Bears, but the remainder of Mending Hands' damage shield will prevent a further 2 damage (totaling 4 damage) and Grizzly Bears will only take 1 damage.

When the turn ends, the single point of damage is removed from the Grizzly Bears, and the Giant Growth effect wears off at the same time. When Bob's turn comes around again, he'll find his Grizzly Bears undamaged and 2/2.


Certain spells allow a player to counter other spells. These spells target the spell they are to counter, and must be played while the first spell is on the stack. If a spell is countered, it is moved from the stack to its owner's graveyard. It does not resolve, and has no effect. If the spell was a permanent, it never comes into play. Some spells state that they cannot be countered. However, the ability "can't be the target of spells or abilities" only applies while in play, and so a card with such an ability can still 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 played and when it resolves. If it is illegal when played, the player cannot play the spell. If it is illegal when the spell resolves, most commonly because the target is no longer in play, then the spell is countered. If a spell is countered this way, then no part of the spell - even an untargeted effect of the spell - takes place. This form of spell countering is also known as fizzling.

If a spell has multiple targets, then all of them must be illegal for the spell to be countered. For example, the card Swelter deals 2 damage to two target creatures. If one creature becomes an illegal target before Swelter resolves, the other will still be damaged. But if they are both illegal, then the entire spell is countered. Note that a spell must have all targets available for it to be played. If there is only one legal target for Swelter, then Swelter can't be played.

Keyword Abilities[]

See: 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.


  • Wizards of the Coast makes the Comprehensive Rules of the game available on their website.
  • Each card in the Gatherer online database has an Official Rulings section at the bottom of the page, which contains answers to frequent questions. See Pongify for an example.
  • As the official rules can be difficult to interpret, external comments can be helpful, such as those found at Ask The Virtual Judge or the official Rules Q&A form