Getting Started in Magic:The Gathering
by Evil Blue Mage

So you’ve decided that you want to start playing Magic the Gathering™. Congratulations! Also, my condolences in advance. This is a fantastic hobby, but it is also addictive. More and more of your time will be spent thinking about these little pieces of cardboard. There are worse ways to spend your time, though. Working, for example. As someone who does, I would recommend that you avoid it for as long as you possibly can.

I’m writing this piece (of what, I’ll leave up to you) because I came across the Pojo and saw it as a site that was trying to cater to those of you just getting started playing Magic. According the poll on the front page, just under half of those who’ve voted have been playing for less than 3 months or know nothing about the game. There seems to be a skills gap here, a need to go over the basics for those just getting started in the game. It is my intent and my interest to get as many people as possible into playing Magic, and I would like to start here.

The mandatory bit about my credentials here, also know as the "what makes me Mr. Fancypants" section. I have been playing for about 3 years now. I’ve personally taught about a dozen people how to play. I think I’ve done a good job as about half of those still play regularly, and I’ve even managed to get some of them to come to tournaments with me (though any of us have yet to place in the top eight, but we will soon). I think I am a pretty good teacher, if not the best player.

I want to make a pledge to you all: I promise that I will not talk down to or otherwise insult your intelligence. In return, I am going to ask that you all write me ( with questions and tell me where you want this to go. I have perhaps the first five or so of these articles sketched out, but I am going to need your help as readers in writing what you want to read.

Well, you have managed to stick with me for the first 350 or so words. And they say the younger generation has no attention span! The assumption that I am going to make at this point is that you have no cards in your possession. I intend to take you through buying your first couple of packs of cards, and what to do when you have them. If you actually have cards but don’t know what to do with them, skip ahead a bit. I you have cards and know what to do with them, why are you reading this? Go play!


All you need is a deck and a friend –old Magic TV commercial

That is mostly true. Your friend also needs a deck. Getting a friend I can’t help you with, with the exception of suggesting that you bathe daily and smile more. Getting a deck together, aye that’s the rub.

Wizards (of the Coast ™, makers of the game) would like for you to buy their Portal ™ Or Starter (probably ™) sets. Their reasoning is that it is a good way to slowly break new players into the game. I am going to advise against this for two reasons: Collectability and Intelligence. These versions of the cards are not compatible with the rest of the card pool unless the card with the same name also exists in the stand game. Intelligence is a bit trickier. I am an optimist. I would like to believe that you can start the game by learning the rules that everyone plays with. You don’t necessarily need to fully understand them at this point, but you can at least be aware of them. It might turn out that I was foolish or naive for having these views, and I might have to spend a great deal of time explaining the rules; time that might not have been necessary is you had bought the introductory sets (I am tired of typing that ™ thing).

So How do you get your first bunch of cards? If you are lucky, you have a friend who can not only loan/give you some extras, but can also show you how to play. Congratulations! You can quit reading now, thanks for playing.

For those of you less fortunates who are still reading this, you’re going to need some cash. I can only speak in terms of US dollars, as I have never actually bought cards in another country (though I have in other languages). Here’s a trick for you: the more friends you can get who also want to start playing, the less cash you will need. The ideal number of surplus friends is four others, but you can get buy with three. Why four? I shall explain in a moment.

What you want to buy initially is at least one starter box of 6th edition cards (1 pack of 75 cards), minimum. You might also want to buy some 6th edition boosters. Please, please, at this point, only buy cards from 6th edition (or 7th, depending on when you read this). There are a few important reasons for this. First, these cards form the basis of the current competitive environment. They are all cards that have been in a previous set, so they are all well tested and not horribly unfair with regards to each other. Second, there are not any new game mechanics to unnecessarily complicate things at this point. The basic game is subtly complicated enough as it is. Third, each starter box of 6th edition cards should come with a little rules insert. This should be enough to get you started. If it isn’t, at the end of this article you will find some links to some more useful information. In short, stick with just 6th edition now. Trust me on this.

Why four extra friends? There are exactly five colors in magic: Red, Green, White, Blue, and Black. Artifact is not a color. Neither is gold. Colorless is not a color, either. Those previous three sentences may not mean much to you at this point, but they will shortly. With 5 of you total, each of you can start out as a "color mage", picking just one color to play with. This has advantages because you can give cards from the colors that you are not using to your respective friend of that color, and they can give theirs to you. You can tell what color a card is by the color of the mana symbol located in the upper right hand corner of the card. Coincidentally, the color of the mana symbol may match the background of the card. While this is a convenient shortcut, it is not always true, and so it is much better to go by the color of the mana symbol(s). In addition, make sure you get all of the appropriate basic land types to go with your color. I have made a table here for your convenience in case you are not sure (thanks to for the mana symbols which I swiped):


Mana Symbol

Basic land type

General Themes/ My Comments



Gaining life, small humanoid creatures, high level of utility spells



Produces mana quickly, big creatures



Creatures not as good as green’s, able to cast many spells directly at another player to reduce their life total



Bringing creatures back from the graveyard, most efficient creature removal, vampiric effects



Returning things to peoples’ hands, stealing their creatures, denying them the ability to play spells.

It doesn’t matter too much, as you will eventually master all five colors. If you choose a color and later decide that you like another one better, switch with your friend for a little while. My comments are generalizations, and there are certain specific examples that contradict me (the best spot creature removal spell in the game is actually white, not black), but these generalizations will hold us for the time being.

At this point, you should hopefully have a decent sized pile of cards in front of you, hopefully of the same color. If you have some cards with brown backgrounds, these are artifacts, and can be used with any color. Hold on to these. You might also have noticed that some of the roman numeral VI’s are silver, and some are gold. These indicate rarity (uncommon and rare, respectively). Do not worry too much about this now… it is much more important to have cards in your color to start with.

Now we get to the point in the article where I stop writing. If the editors of this website will have me, I will return next week with an article on building your first deck, with examples. In the meantime, read the rulebook that came with your 6th edition set. Also, if you have the chance, go check out this link:

This is Stephen D’Angelo’s premiere magic website, chock full of Rules, rules, and more rules. Download the comprehensive 6th edition rules in the format of your choice.

That’s all for now. If you have questions or just want to chat, drop me a line at

See you next week!