Feature: A Modern Glossary of Magic

Posted in NEWS on October 19, 2012

By Nate Price

A longtime member of the Pro Tour and Grand Prix coverage staff, Nate Price now works making beautiful words for all of you lovely people as the community manager for organized play. When not covering events, he lords over the @MagicProTour Twitter account, ruling with an iron fist.

For the newer players out there, navigating the world of Modern can be a difficult task. First of all, there are 7276 cards in the card pool, which is an incredible amount of information to sort through. Then there's the problem that the sets allowed in this format stretch back from Mirrodin, which was released all the way back in 2003, nearly a decade ago. Not to mention that there are all of these nicknames for decks and cards tossed about that can leave a player unfamiliar with them completely dumbfounded. Finally, Magic lingo has become so prevalent in our commentary about the game that players unfamiliar to it will find it impossible to follow the people who are supposed to be explaining what's going on!

If you are a more experienced player, then this isn't for you. You can go watch the stream. Or discuss how handsome I am in the Twitterverse. For those of you who have felt a little lost when watching the coverage, or are trying to get a handle on the language of Magic, here's a great place to start. This is a basic primer, with all of the important decks, cards, and terms that we use to describe what's going on in a game. Hopefully this will help to flatten out that learning curve some and have you feeling more confident as you watch the breakdown of the event by our incredible video team.


Affinity: An artifact-based, aggressive deck built around the strong interactions between Arcbound Ravager, Cranial Plating, and artifacts. While not actually possessing a large number of cards with the affinity mechanic, the current incarnation of the deck takes its name from the original affinity deck, which had the same core of interactions but utilized more cards with the affinity mechanic (Frogmite, Myr Enforcer, Thoughtcast, etc). Hence, the name. Recently, the terms has been retired in favor of "robots", which refers to the fact that the creatures in this type of deck often look like robots.

Eggs: Also known as Second Sunrise, Eggs is a Modern combo deck that uses cheap artifacts that have card-drawing effects, such as Chromatic Sphere, Terrarion, and Conjuror's Bauble to cycle through the deck, eventually using Second Sunrise after a long turn of sacrificing artifacts, to draw a large number of cards and generate a large storm count. With the ability to effectively draw all of the cards in their deck, the Eggs deck can use the massive storm count to cast a lethal storm of Grapeshots to finish opponents in one move. This deck is referred to as Eggs because of the original version of the deck, which ran the Odyssey cycle of eggs, such as Darkwater Egg, to generate the mana and card drawing. The Odyssey cycle of eggs are not part of the Modern format, but the deck is still referred to as Eggs today.

Infect: The Infect deck takes advantage of the fact that players receiving ten poison counters lose the game. Using a variety of cheap one cost and two cost infect creatures, which deal damage to players in the form of poison counters, the infect deck finishes players off over the course of one or two attacks after a flurry of spells to increase the power of their attacking creatures. Cards like Vines of Vastwood, Assault Strobe, and Groundswell are used to produce kills as early as turn two.

Jund: Named for the shard from Shards of Alara composed of black, red, and green cards, Jund is a throwback to a deck of a very similar style and core composition that dominated the Standard format around 2009. Jund is characterized by cheap, efficient creatures such as Tarmogoyf; a plethora of removal and control elements, such as Lightning Bolt and Blightning; and the ludicrously powerful Bloodbraid Elf, which effectively allows the Jund player to play two powerful spells for a considerably lower cost than normal. Jund is a heavy attrition deck, often winning matches through the sheer card advantage offered by Bloodbraid Elf, Liliana of the Veil, and Blightning, but the aggression of the deck is more than capable of demolishing slower decks before they can set of their defenses.

Fish/Merfolk: A mono-blue, aggressive deck, Merfolk is a deck that is commonly used to combat formats with a heavy combo component. Merfolk tries to get an early creature or two on the table, enhance them, and protect them with a slew of countermagic. This is successful against many combo decks because the countermagic provides just enough disruption to the timing of the combos that the Merfolk deck is able to kill them with the early creatures.

Pod: This category of decks takes advantage of the New Phyrexia rare Birthing Pod to fetch a variety of creatures from the library to combat any situation that might arise. The creature base for these decks tends to be very diverse, running many single copies of cards designed to react to specific situations. The deck can then use Birthing Pod or Chord of Calling to fetch the creature from their deck should the need arise. Decks with this type of functionality are often referred to as "toolbox decks".

Robots: See "Affinity".

RUG Delver : When their names are not being taken from other Magic institutions, such as in the case of Jund and Boros, decks are often distinguished from other similar decks by referring to them along their color allegiances. When doing this, the colors are often shortened to their one letter abbreviations, w for white, u for blue, b for black, r for red, and g for green. Sometimes, we are fortunate enough for this to form an English word, as is the case for the RUG Delver deck. This allows announcers to refer to it as "rug" Delver, signifying that it is red, blue, and green. RUG Delver takes advantage of cheap instants and sorcery spells, such as Serum Visions, to improve the quality of their draws. Thanks to the large number of instants and sorcery cards being played, Delver of Secrets can routinely be transformed into the 3/2 flying Insectile Aberration. This, combined with other efficient creatures, such as Tarmogoyf, gives the deck a very potent punch, supported by control elements such as Vedalken Shackles, Cryptic Command, and Mana Leak.

Scapeshift : Scapeshift, the eponymous backbone of the powerful combo deck, allows players to effectively exchange their lands in play for their choice of lands from their deck. Combined with mana acceleration and Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, the Scapeshift deck is capable of powering up to seven lands and using Scapeshift to exchange them for Valakut and enough Mountains to destroy opponents in one fell swoop.

Storm: Any variant of a deck that attempts to use cheap card drawing and mana generation to produce a large number of spells cast in one turn. This leads to a kill using a card with the storm mechanic, which produces a copy of the spell cast for each other spell cast that turn. Kill conditions for storm decks include Grapeshot and Empty the Warrens in Modern.

Tron (or Urzatron): The trio of Urza's Mine, Urza's Power Plant, and Urza's Tower, when assembled, are referred to as the Urzatron, or Tron for short. An assembled Tron gives a player access to seven mana. The Tron decks take advantage of this excess mana to cast creatures like Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre, and Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, well before they would otherwise be cast. Often, Gifts Ungiven is used as a method of completing the Tron, fetching out threats, or setting up a recursion using Unburial Rites.

White Weenie: The term weenie refers to a small, cheap creature. White Weenie is a deck built around playing these weenies, enhancing them with cards like Honor the Pure, and demolishing opponents before they can put anything together. Versions of it can contain small amounts of a control element, but most of them are hyper-aggressive, valuing offense over defense.

Game Concepts

Bob: After winning the 2004 Magic Invitational, Bob Maher, Jr. won the right to design his own card. His initial design turned into Dark Confidant, the Ravnica: City of Guilds rare. Like all Invitational winning submissions, Maher is incorporated into the artwork of the card. Dark Confidant is traditionally used as a source of card advantage in decks like Jund.

Burn: Since most of the spells that are capable of directly dealing damage to a player or creature use fire or lightning imagery, they are collectively known as burn spells, even if they don't actually use fire. Examples of burn common to Modern include Lightning Bolt, Shrapnel Blast, and Forked Bolt.

Card Advantage: The concept of card advantage has received more discussion over the history of Magic than any other topic. In short, the concept of card advantage relates to the equivalences of exchanges in Magic. Basically, if one card allows you to draw two cards or destroy two of your opponent's permanents, you are gaining card advantage.

Combo Deck: Combo decks are decks that rely on a combination of cards to win their games. One example of a popular combo deck in Modern is Storm, which relies on the combination of mana-generating and card-drawing cards to play a large number of spells in one turn before playing a card with the storm mechanic, such as Grapeshot, to kill their opponents. Hive Mind is another example. It uses the card Hive Mind to provide copies of any spells cast to all players. They then use the various Pact cards, such as Slaughter Pact, to put a copy of that spell onto the stack for their opponent. When their opponent is unable to pay the costs of all of these Pacts during their next upkeep, they lose the game.

ETB: A shorthand acronym for "enters the battlefield". Creatures with ETB effects, such as Snapcaster Mage, have abilities that trigger upon entering the battlefield, giving a spell in the graveyard flashback in the case of Snapcaster Mage. Other textbook examples with cards in Modern with ETB effects are Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle and Kitchen Finks.

Fetch: Fetch is simply a catchall term used to describe the action of retrieving a card from the library. For example, lands such as Verdant Catacombs are called "fetch lands". Birthing Pod is another example of a card that lets players fetch a particular card.

Metagame: The term metagame refers to the state of the current Constructed environment, most frequently speaking of the types of decks that are prominent and popular, as well as individual card choices within those decks. For example, if I told you that the three most popular decks in Modern right now were Jund, Storm, and RUG Delver, you would have a pretty good idea of the Modern metagame. Since each tournament gives players a chance to react to what they experienced in the previous one, the metagame is constantly changing. Staying on top of and correctly predicting the metagame is one of the most challenging aspects of the professional level of Magic.

Mill: A verb derived from the card Millstone, the act of milling a player is to put cards from a player's library into their graveyard. Since players lose the game when they can't draw a card, milling an opponent's entire library is one of the most frequently used alternate win conditions.

"#"-Drop: This terminology is used to describe a permanent of a given converted mana cost. For example, Tarmogoyf, which costs 1G, is a two-drop. Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, is a fifteen-drop. This terminology applies most often to permanents, such as creatures and artifacts, but it can be used to also describe the cost of spells.

Pump: Pump is a verb that means to enhance the power or toughness of a creature. Pump effects in Modern right now include Giant Growth, Mutagenic Growth, and Groundswell.

Red Zone: The red zone is an allusion to the older play mats used for Feature Matches, which had a large red area between the players. Players would use this area to indicate the spells they were casting and the creatures that were attacking. Nowadays, the phrase "sends them into the red zone" is synonymous for attacking.

Swing/Smash/Battle/Bash : All of these words have at some point in Magic history been the preferred method of saying "to attack". Now, they are all interchangeable and frequently used as slang.

The Stack: The stack is the order of spells that have been played during a given priority step. For example, when you play a spell in your main phase, it is said to go on the stack. After that, any spells that are played in response to the first one are said to go on the stack above them. Spells on the stack resolve from the top to the bottom.

Silver Bullet: A reference to the very specific weakness of werewolves, the phrase "silver bullet" in Magic refers to a card that exists in a deck, usually only one or two copies, that serves the purpose of providing an advantage against a very specific deck or effect. A good example of a silver bullet is the card Ethersworn Canonist against Storm decks or Aven Mindcensor against any decks that rely on searching the library, such as Pod decks.