Glossary of Terms

Posted in Level One on September 21, 2015

By Reid Duke

Over the span of the last nineteen years, since he was five years old, Reid has been a player, a deck builder, a collector, and a lover of the Magic world. Today, he’s a full-time professional Magic player and writer.

After more than a year with the Level One column, we've covered dozens of important concepts. We've also covered many terms that might be unfamiliar to a new player, but which are important for anyone interested in learning more about Magic strategy and theory.

Below is a list of the vocabulary words from Level One. This is meant as a reference for any time you might encounter an unfamiliar phrase—not just in reading Level One, but from anywhere in the wide world of competitive Magic. For further reading, nearly every phrase contains a link that will take you to the article pertaining to or addressing that term.

  • Adaptability: The ability to play offense or defense, depending on what the situation calls for.
  • Advantage: Having more of a resource than your opponent, or any other beneficial position relative to your opponent.
  • Aggro: (Short for "aggressive.") An aggro deck (also called "beatdown") exploits tempo by playing and attacking with creatures quickly.
  • Archetype: Any recurring strategy with numerous possible variations.
  • Blank: "To blank a card." To turn one of your opponent's cards into a dead card.
  • Board Stall: The situation where the battlefield is clogged with creatures, and neither player can profitably attack. (Also called "Creature Stall.")
  • Board Sweepers: Cards capable of destroying many creatures at once. (Also called "Wraths.")
  • Bomb: A card so powerful that it will often determine the game all on its own. (Term used more commonly with regard to Limited than Constructed.)
  • Bottleneck: A limiting factor. To be "bottlenecked on mana" is to have more things to do with your mana than you have mana available.
  • Bounce: To return a card to its owner's hand.
  • Burn: Spells that can deal damage to creatures and/or players. Burn is a hallmark of the color red, and is an example of reach. (Also called "Direct Damage.")
  • Card Advantage: Any process by which a player effectively obtains more cards than his or her opponent.
  • Card Quality: The ability of your cards to influence the outcome of the game.
  • Card Quantity: The gross number of cards that you have access to.
  • Chump Block: To block with a creature in order to preserve your life total, even though yours will be the only creature dying in the exchange.
  • Combat Trick: An instant-speed spell that can improve or save your creature (or otherwise affect the board state in your favor) during combat.

Titan's Strength | Art by Karl Kopinski

  • Consistency: Resilience against things going wrong. A deck is consistent if its failure rate is low and it can operate on a reasonable level in a relatively high portion of games.
  • Constructed: For Constructed events, you bring a deck of at least 60 cards from home. Examples: Standard, Modern, Legacy.
  • Control: A control deck focuses on shutting down the opponent, and only wins the game later, at its own convenience.
  • Counterdraft: Spend a pick taking a card out of the draft, so no one else can have it.
  • Creature Land: A land with the ability to become a creature.
  • Critical Mass: Some strategies grow rapidly in power as more cards that contribute to the strategy are added. For such strategies, critical mass is the tipping point where the strategy can be successfully put into effect.
  • Damage Race: When neither player can take firm control of the game, and both players are trying to win the game before the other. (Also called "racing.")
  • Dead Card: A card with no ability to impact the game.
  • Deck Yourself: Run out of cards in your library and lose the game.
  • Diversifying: Intentionally choosing a variety of different cards instead of all of the same card for a given job. You might diversify in an attempt to gain flexibility, be unpredictable, or to attack from a variety of angles.
  • Dodge: "To dodge an effect." To create a situation where part of a spell or ability cannot affect you.
  • Early Stage: The first part of a game of Magic, where tempo is the primary concern.
  • Elephant Method: Writing out ideal realistic lists for all matchups and then trying to make the unique cards in those lists add up to 75 cards before deciding on the specific 60 for the main deck and the specific fifteen for the sideboard.
  • Evasion: Flying or any other ability that makes a creature difficult to block.
  • Filler: The unexciting cards that will make up the bulk of your deck. Used more often in Limited than in Constructed.
  • Flexible: The quality of being effective in a variety of situations. A flexible card can be used in different ways, and will help you to some extent in a relatively high portion of the games that you draw it.
  • Focus: (1) The most important skill in Magic's gameplay: staying present in the game and minimizing distractions. (2) As opposed to a "balanced deck;" a focused deck is centered on a particular strategy.
  • Format: The format of the game or tournament dictates which cards you can play with.
  • Format-Defining: A card is format-defining if most or all of the popular decks in the format are warped around its existence.
  • Going Through the Motions: Being careful and precise with every decision, even the small ones.
  • Hate Cards: Single cards that are extremely effective at beating a particular deck, color, or strategy.

Combust | Art by Jaime Jones

  • High-Impact Card: As opposed to a "low-impact card." A card with a relatively large potential to influence the outcome of the game.
  • Incidental: Coming indirectly, or attached to another effect. Example: "Incidental card advantage."
  • Inevitability: A virtual guarantee that one player will win if the game goes on indefinitely.
  • Initiative: The player with initiative sets the pace of the game, and forces the opponent to react. The more proactive player will have initiative.
  • Investment: Spending resources now with the promise of a payoff later.
  • Late Stage: The last part of a game of Magic, where tempo is no longer a big concern and card advantage becomes the focus.
  • Limited: For Limited events, you open fresh packs of cards once the tournament begins and have to build your deck on the fly. Examples: Sealed Deck, Booster Draft.
  • Line-Up Theory: Teaches the use of the right tool for the right job. "Whole deck vs. whole deck" line-up theory concerns the matchup overall. "Hand vs. hand" line-up theory concerns the cards that have been drawn in a particular game.
  • Linear Strategy: A strategy entirely focused on one goal or theme.
  • Main Deck: Your primary deck (usually either 40 or 60 cards), which will be the same for the start of every match.
  • Mana Base: A deck's lands and any supplemental ways to produce mana.
  • Mana Curve: The balance between cards of varying mana costs in a deck.
  • Mana Efficiency: (1) Ratio of impact to mana spent. To be as mana efficient as possible, choose the cheapest option for each job that needs to be done. (2) Letting as little mana go to waste as possible on each of your turns.
  • Mana Fixing: Lands or other cards that can (either directly or indirectly) produce more than one color of mana.
  • Mana Flooded: When you've drawn far more lands than you need.
  • Mana Hosed: When you haven't drawn as many lands as you need.
  • Mana Sink: A card that can make use of extra mana.
  • Metagame: The game outside the game. All of the decisions, resources, and information (but not the rules of the game) that are important to Magic.
  • Midrange: Midrange decks are built with both offense and defense in mind, and have the ability to adapt to whatever situation they face.
  • Mill: To put cards directly into the graveyard from the library.
  • Modal Spell: A spell that requires you to choose modes as you cast it. Example: Abzan Charm.

Abzan Charm | Art by Mathias Kollros

  • Netdecking: Copying a decklist from the internet.
  • Open Color: In a booster draft, a color that's not being heavily drafted by the drafters around you.
  • Out: A card or situation that most show itself in order for you to win.
  • Overdrafted: A color or archetype is overdrafted if too many people at the booster draft table are going for it.
  • Permission Spells: Spells that can counter other spells on the stack. (Also called "counters" or "counterspells.")
  • Power: How good a deck or card is without the context of format or metagame. (Also called "raw power" or "power level.")
  • Predicting the Metagame: Thinking ahead about what decks your opponents are likely to bring to a tournament.
  • Priority: Having priority means it's your turn to act—to either do something or do nothing.
  • Proactive: When you're being proactive, you're trying to progress your own game plan.
  • Pushing a Tempo Advantage: Leveraging an advantage on the board into an advantage of another kind.
  • Reach: (1) The ability of an aggro deck to finish off a wounded opponent, even after it may have lost its initial tempo advantage. (2) The ability to block creatures with flying.
  • Reactive: When you're being reactive, you're defending and trying to answer your opponent's threats.
  • Sequencing: (1) The order and manner in which you take your actions in a game. (2) The order and manner in which you take your actions in a turn.
  • Sideboard: After the first game of a tournament match, players may swap in any number of cards from their sideboard in an effort to make their deck better suited to winning the next game. In Constructed, sideboards can never be more than fifteen cards.
  • Signals: In a booster draft, the cards you pass, receive, do not pass, and do not receive from your neighbors can provide information about which colors are open.
  • Situational: A situational card requires particular circumstances in order to be at its best. The opposite of flexible.
  • Slowroll: To hold onto the winning card longer than you need to. To slowroll maliciously is unsportsmanlike, but to be careful on the final turn of the game is just sound strategy.
  • Splashing: To center your deck around primary colors, but have an additional color on which you're not very reliant. You'll only have a small number of cards of your "splash color."
  • Spot Removal: A targeted spell that can remove one opposing creature.
  • Stack: The zone where spells and abilities wait to resolve. Typically, both players have a chance to respond to a spell on the stack.
  • Staying Open: In a booster draft, waiting to decide your colors until you've had time to read signals.

Sylvan Scrying | Art by Daniel Ljunggren

  • Symmetric Effect: A part of a spell or ability that impacts both players in the same way.
  • Synergy: Cards working especially well together.
  • Tempo: Board presence. A resource derived from how one player's permanents match up against those of the opponent. The two players' jockeying for tempo dictates the "pace" of the game.
  • Tier System: A way of grouping and gauging the relative strengths of the cards you see in a booster draft.
  • Transformational Sideboard: A sideboard plan that has you employing a completely different strategy than your main deck.
  • Turning the Corner: Shifting your focus from defense to offense.
  • "Two-to-Five Lands Strategy": A basic mulligan strategy that instructs you to keep your hand if you have between two and five lands, and mulligan if you have zero, one, six, or seven lands.
  • Versatile: Having a range of uses for a range of possible scenarios.
  • Virtual Card Advantage: As opposed to "technical card advantage;" accounts for the fact that certain cards have a dramatically higher impact on the game than others.
  • Win Condition: A threat, combination, or situation intended to finish the game. Typically used in the context of control decks.
  • Zero-Sum Game: A game played between two opponents that results in one winner, who takes everything, and one loser, who gets nothing. Tournament Magic is, for our purposes, a zero-sum game. (Also called a "strictly competitive game.")

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