Tips and Tricks

Posted in Feature on August 25, 2008

By Wizards of the Coast

Looking for a quick refresher on Magic: The Gathering rules or a new trick to spring on your next opponent? Browse this page for up-to-date information from the most recent Magic sets.

Tip: Parts of a Turn

Each turn has five phases that you follow in order:

  1. Beginning phase
    1. Untap step
    2. Upkeep step
    3. Draw step
  2. Main phase
  3. Combat phase
    1. Beginning of combat step
    2. Declare attackers step
    3. Declare blockers step
    4. Combat damage step
    5. End of combat step
  4. Main phase (again)
  5. Ending phase
    1. End step
    2. Cleanup step

You do something at the start of some steps—like draw a card or declare blockers or deal combat damage—after which players get the chance to cast spells or activate abilities (except during untap and cleanup).


Planeswalkers are powerful allies you can call on to fight by your side. Each one enters the battlefield with the number of loyalty counters indicated in its lower right corner, and each has abilities that add or remove loyalty counters to activate. You can activate only one loyalty ability from each of your planeswalkers during your turn, and only when you could cast a sorcery.

Your planeswalkers can be attacked by your opponent’s creatures (if so, you can block as normal), and your opponents can damage them with their spells and abilities instead of damaging you. Any damage dealt to a planeswalker causes it to lose that many loyalty counters. If it has no loyalty counters, it’s put into your graveyard!

Assigning Combat Damage

During your combat phase, you declare attackers, then your opponent declares blockers.
If multiple creatures block the same attacker, you order the blockers to show which is first in line for damage, which is second, and so on.

When the combat damage step starts, combat damage is assigned.
If an attacker you control is blocked by multiple creatures, you can divide its combat damage among them.
You start by assigning damage to the first blocking creature in line.
If that creature is assigned damage equal to its toughness, you may assign any further damage to that creature and/or the next one in line.
Assign enough damage to the second one, and you can move on to the third, and so on.

Once all combat damage has been assigned, it's dealt immediately.
(This is a change from previous rules.)

Tokens & Counters

Some abilities tell you to put a creature token onto the battlefield.
If you don't have enough copies of the right kind of token card, don't worry!
You can use glass beads, dice, or anything else you have lying around as tokens.
When a token leaves the battlefield, it ceases to exist after it gets to its new zone.
Just set it aside until you need it again.

Some abilities tell you to put a counter on a permanent.
The counter marks a change to the permanent that lasts for as long as it's on the battlefield.
A counter usually changes a creature's power and toughness or tracks a planeswalker's current loyalty.
You can use anything you want as counters: glass beads, dice, or whatever.

Rules Tip: Legends

Legendary cards represent unique characters, places, and items in the Magic Multiverse. If you control two or more legendary permanents with the same name, you choose one and put the rest in their owners' graveyards. Planeswalkers follow a similar rule, so if you control two or more planeswalkers with the same type (like "Elspeth" or "Jace"), you choose one and put the rest in their owners' graveyards.

The game doesn't care what legends or planeswalkers your opponents control; it only cares about what you have.

Tip: Building a Deck

A Constructed deck must contain at least 60 cards. It can include up to 4 copies of any card, but there's no limit on how many basic lands a deck can have. Choosing just two colors for your deck offers you a good mix of choices.

    Lands. A 60-card deck usually has about 24 lands.
    Creatures. Creatures account for 20 to 30 cards in a typical 60-card deck. Choose creatures that have a variety of mana costs. Low-cost creatures are potent early on, but high-cost creatures can quickly win a game once they hit the table.
    Other cards. Artifacts, enchantments, instants, and sorceries round out your deck.

Limited Formats

When you play a Limited format, building your deck is part of the fun. You and your opponents build decks of at least 40 cards out of cards you open and extra basic lands. (A 40-card deck should have 17–19 lands and about 15–20 creatures.)

Sealed Deck (2 or more players)
Each player opens six booster packs. Build the best 40-card deck you can using the cards from your packs.

Booster Draft (4 to 8 players)
Each player at the table starts with three unopened booster packs. Each player opens his or her first pack, chooses a card, and passes the rest to the left. Don't show anyone your picks or what's in the packs! Take one card from each pack passed to you and pass the rest to your left until all the cards have been taken. Repeat this process with the second pack, but pass it to the right. For the last pack, pass to the left again. Use your picks and any number of basic lands to build your 40-card deck.

Tip: Sideboarding

In sanctioned Magic tournaments, you and your opponents don't play just a single game. Rather, the first player to win two games wins the match. Your sideboard lets you react to your opponent's strategy for the second and third games. After the match, you restore your deck to its original configuration.

In a Constructed match, your sideboard contains up to fifteen cards. Your deck and your sideboard together can include up to four copies of any card (other than basic lands). If you choose to put cards from your sideboard into your deck, you may move any number of cards from your deck back into your sideboard as long as your deck contains at least sixty cards.

Tip: The Gatherer Online Database

Visit to go straight to the official Magic: The Gathering card database. You can search for a word, phrase, or number that appears on any part of a card—even the name of your favorite artist—and get an interactive list of cards that match what you're looking for.

Gatherer is the perfect tool to help you build decks. If you're making a Goblin deck, you can search Gatherer for cards with the word "Goblin" on them. You can filter your search to show just the cards from an given set or those allowed in a particular play format.

Tip: The Stack

A spell or ability doesn't resolve (have its effect) right away—it has to wait on the stack. Both players get a chance to play an instant or an activated ability in response. If a player does, that instant or ability goes on the stack on top of what was already waiting there. When both players decline to play anything, the top spell or ability on the stack resolves.

Here's an example. You control Grizzly Bears, a 2/2 creature. Your opponent plays Incinerate to deal 3 damage to it. The Incinerate goes on the stack. You respond to Incinerate with Giant Growth, which gives the Bears +3/+3 until the end of the turn. Giant Growth goes on the stack, on top of Incinerate. Giant Growth resolves first, making the creature 5/5. When Incinerate resolves, it doesn't deal enough damage to destroy the pumped-up Bears. (If Incinerate had been played in response to the Giant Growth, things would have turned out very differently . . . .)

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