An Introduction to Magic for Pokémon Players

By: Christine Amaral
 with concepts explained by Spike

I recently was rummaging through some older email files of mine and ran across something interesting.  When I began playing Magic: The Gathering (about the time that Invasion was released), a great friend of mine helped my transition into the game by explaining the most basic concepts to me.  He sometimes related them to Pokémon, another TCG we played together which was also the vehicle for our meeting in the first place.  I feel his explanations could be a wonderful tool to transition other Pokémon players into the amazing world of Magic. Let me share with you the wisdom he imparted to me.

Each card type will be covered here and different basic concepts and points about each type discussed:


  • They're basically like energy cards. 
  • There are basic lands (unlimited) and nonbasic lands (limit 4 to a deck).
  • You tap lands to add mana to your mana pool, then spend it on stuff.
  • Creatures are permanents, meaning once you cast them, they stay in play until something happens to change that.
  • Creatures have a power and a toughness, given in the format P/T so a 6/4 has a power of 6 and a toughness of 4.
  • Power is the amount of damage that creature deals in combat.
  • Toughness is the amount of damage it can take before dying.
  • A creature dies if it takes damage greater than or equal to its toughness, or if its toughness is reduced to 0 or less by a spell or an ability.
  • All damage is removed from creatures at the end of each turn, so if you want to kill a creature, you've got to deal all necessary damage in one turn.
  • Artifacts are another class of permanent. Generally they either have static abilities (always on) or activated abilities (that you pay an activation cost to activate.)
  • Artifacts are colorless.
Artifact Creatures
  • Artifact creatures are colorless creatures that count as both creatures and artifacts.
  • You can use an anti-artifact spell against an artifact creature.
  • The last class of permanents is enchantments.
  • Enchantments are colored permanents that have some sort of ability, either static or activated.
  • Think of abilities as being like Pokemon Powers: Some are on all the time, some you have to announce when you're using and pay a cost (like discarding a card for Dark Kadabra.)
  • Sorceries are spells that are cast, have an effect, and then are discarded (they don't stay in play)
  • You can only cast sorceries on your turn, only during your main phase, and only when the stack is empty. (The stack is a concept I'll get to in a bit)
  • Instants are like sorceries, except you can cast them at just about any time: during your opponent's turn, during combat, even in response to another spell.
  • When a player plays any sort of spell (creature, enchantment, artifact, sorcery, or instant) or plays an ability, another player can respond to that effect by casting an instant or playing an ability of his own...
  • Then the first player in turn gets to respond to that instant.  You can only do this with instants, mind you.
  • When this happens, the chain of spells is called the "stack"... as each spell is cast, it's put on "top" of the stack, above the rest.
  • When all players are done responding, the stack starts to resolve, starting with the spell or ability on top.
  • At any time, a player can interrupt the stack to cast another instant. But it usually doesn't get quite that complicated.
For an example of how this could be useful..
  • A player has a 2/2 creature and he casts a Giant Growth on it.
  • Giant Growth is an instant that gives a creature +3/+3 until end of turn, so the 2/2 would become 5/5.
  • In response to that, his opponent casts Shock, an instant that does 2 damage to a creature or player.
  • the Shock resolves first, dealing 2 damage.
  • The creature still has 2 toughness (the Growth hasn't resolved yet) so it dies.
  • Then the Growth fizzles and goes to the graveyard because it no longer has a legal target.
  • By responding to the Growth with an instant, the Shock player was able to kill the creature before it got the toughness boost, otherwise he would have had to deal 5 damage to kill it.
Concept of Attack and Defense
  • You attack your opponent with creatures and he can block them with creatures of his own.
  • So then the creatures deal their combat damage to each other, and one or both of them may die.
  • Keep in mind that multiple blockers can block a single attacking creature (usually to make sure you kill it) but a single blocker usually can't block more than one attacker, unless it says so on the card.
  • Also, unless some effect mandates otherwise, the defending player is the one who assigns blockers to attackers... by that I mean he chooses which defending creatures block which attacking creatures..
  • You never HAVE to block; you can let all the damage through if you want to.  But any damage that is not blocked gets through and hurts your life total, sending it closer to 0.
Basic Creature Abilities

  • Flying means that that creature can't be blocked by creatures that don't themselves have flying or an ability to block flyers.
  • Normally, when a creature attacks and is blocked, all of the attacking creature's damage is dealt to the blocking creature. None carries over to the defending player.
  • So if a 1/1 blocked a 6/6, the 1/1 would take all 6 damage and die.
  • If a creature has trample, then when it attacks and is blocked, it only deals damage to the blocker(s) sufficient to kill them. The rest of the damage "tramples" over to the defending player.
First Strike
  • Creatures with first strike, when blocked, get to deal their damage to the other creature first.
  • If the other creature(s) are killed right off, then they never deal their damage.
  • So a 3/1 with first strike could be blocked by a 4/3 without first strike... the 3/1's first strike would kill the 4/3 before it ever has a chance to deal damage, so the 4/3 dies and the 3/1 lives.
  • If a creature with first strike blocks another creature with first strike, they also deal their damage simultaneously, so the first strike is essentially ignored.
  • First strike works for the attacker or the blocker.  Trample, however, only works when the trampling creature is attacking.
 Playing the Game
  • Each player starts with 20 life and a 7 card hand.
  • The player who wins the coin flip/die roll can choose whether they want to "play first" or "draw first"... if they choose to draw first, their opponent plays first.
  • The player who plays first doesn't get to draw a card their first turn.
  • Finally, there are only 2 ways to lose (although there are specific cards that introduce additional win/loss conditions)
  • 1) being at 0 or less life.
  • or 2) being unable to draw a card.
  • Unlike Pokémon, if you have to draw a card for ANY reason and you can't, you lose (not just at the beginning of your turn).
And there you have it, in a nutshell.  Hopefully this will give you a basic grasp of what's what.  The best way to get started is to have a friend teach you the game, or call some local card shops and find one that is holding tournaments.  Go hang out and see what's up.  Consider buying a "Portal" starter deck, with instructions included and have some fun with that. And you may want to print this out as a reference guide.