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[Magic:The Gathering] Fourth Edition
Annotated Rules
Page 1

The WotC Rules Team, with annotations by Beth Moursund

Learning the Rules

Like most games, Magic: The Gathering is easier to learn from another player than from a stuffy old rulebook. That's not always possible, though, so we've tried to make this book as straightforward and easily understood as possible. Don't let the size of the rulebook throw you; a lot of the stuff in here can wait until you've played a few games.

Selene says: As if the rules aren't already long enough, my friend Mathias and I will be popping in to add more comments and examples. Everything printed in normal type (like the first paragraph here) is part of the actual rules; when you buy a starter deck of Magic cards, that material is what's in the rulebook. Everything printed in italics (like this) is additional explanation, examples of how the rule affects play, or answers to questions that a lot of players have asked before this book was written. We'll also point out some of the subtle ways that rules can combine or affect each other, especially in the places that tend to surprise new players. Finally, the Magic designers found a few ambiguities that managed to sneak into the rules; they hope to correct them in future editions. To make this annotated version match precisely the current rules, we've left the original text intact but marked these problem areas in this type.

To start, read through this book until you get to the end of the first sample game. This should give you enough information to play a little bit and get used to the game. Words that are hyperlinked have special technical explanations and definitions associated with them. These are outlined in the glossary, but you really don't need to worry about them until after you've tried the game a few times.

Occasionally, you may run across a card that contradicts the rules. In such a situation, the card always takes precedence.

Mathias says: That's one of the things that makes Magic so exciting and so different from most games. You may think you're winning, but then your opponent may play a card that you've never seen before or may use a common card you've seen many times in a way that you never thought of.


Magic: The Gathering is a collectible trading card game created by Richard Garfield and produced by Wizards of the Coast, Inc. There are more than three hundred different cards in the core set of Magic: The Gathering, and new cards are being designed every day.

As a wizard seeking the knowledge of this book, you already know that the cards in your deck represent the various creatures, spells, and artifacts with which you will face another wizard and battle for control of a plane in Dominia. So where do you begin?

Players begin with 20 life each. If you're lucky, you may be able to get more than that during the game; some spells can boost your life point total to more than 20. You win if your opponent's life total drops to 0 or less or if your opponent can no longer draw a card. You can damage your opponent by casting spells, attacking with your creatures, or using the effects of other cards in play. When your opponent tries to damage you, you can defend yourself with other spells, block or destroy your opponent's creatures, or even turn her own cards against her.

Selene says: Actually, it's possible to go below zero life points and then recover without losing, if you get those points back quickly enough, because you only check for losing at certain specific times. Look under "Winning" in the glossary for the details. If both players end up with zero or less at one of these times, the game is a draw.

Getting Started

To play, each player needs a deck of at least forty cards. You can build your deck from a selection of all of the cards you own; you don't have to confine yourself to cards from a particular starter deck. You'll also need some way of keeping score. Some players use pencil and paper, while others prefer counters or some other method. It's best to have a large, flat playing area for laying out your cards; expect a game in progress to take up most of a standard card table.

Mathias says: Depending on which cards you play with, you may also need some tokens or counters to represent certain things in the game. Pocket change works fine for this, or you can use any small objects you happen to have around. We've used jelly beans, dice, and bits of torn paper, among other things.

To begin the game, both players shuffle their decks. You must also give your opponent the opportunity to shuffle or cut your deck. Once both decks have been shuffled, they're put face down on the table. If you're playing for ante , then each player turns over the top card and lays it face up. This card is the ante; whoever wins the game will get to keep both cards. Set the ante cards aside, because you're going to need plenty of room!

Selene says: Playing for ante is always optional. If you're not comfortable putting your cards on the line, check with your opponents to see if they're willing to play just for fun instead. Some players almost always play for ante; others almost never do. You probably won't want to play for ante during your first few games, when you are still getting used to the rules and your cards.

Mathias says: ante, though, is a balancing factor. If you're not risking any of your cards, then you're likely to fill your deck with all of the best cards you own. This gives an advantage to whichever player has the bigger collection. But if you're playing for ante, then you are willing to risk the loss of any card in your deck, which makes the duel fairer for a player who has fewer cards. After all, even the strongest deck can be beaten by an unlucky shuffle!

Each player then draws an opening hand of seven cards from his or her deck. After you draw your initial hand, the rest of your deck becomes your draw pile, or library . Near your library, leave some space for a graveyard , or discard pile. Most of the cards you bring into play will go into your territory , or your half of the playing surface. A few of your cards may go into your opponent's territory instead. If you play cards in enemy territory, be sure to retrieve them when the game is over. As some experienced players have discovered many times, this is an easy way to lose a great card!

Selene says: I usually keep a pad of stick-it notes handy while playing. If one player's card goes into another player's territory, I just tear off a strip of a stick-it note and stick it onto the card. If we're playing a multiplayer game (see "Sequence of Play: A Quick Reference Guide" ), we all write our initials on the strips to make it easier to keep track of who owns what.

Mathias says: Sometimes I play with people who use plastic card sleeves to protect their cards while playing. This makes it easy for both of us to see when one of their cards is in my area, and this keeps me from accidentally shuffling their cards into my deck... though some of mine still get shuffled into theirs occasionally.

You are now ready to start a game, or duel . Determine randomly who goes first. If you and your opponent duel again afterward, whoever loses this duel will get to go first next time.

The Cards

There are two basic types of cards, spells and lands . lands are easy to spot: they say "land" in between the picture and the text box. lands are the most common kind of card in Magic, since they usually provide the mana , or magical energy, for all your spells. You can lay out one land per turn, and you may use the land for mana as soon as it is in play.

When you get mana from a land, you have to tap that land. tapping a card means turning it sideways. This indicates to you and to your opponent that the card's effects have been temporarily used up. Don't worry; your cards will untap at the beginning of your next turn. The symbol {tap} (tap) on a card indicates that if you use that card to generate a particular effect, then you have to tap it (turn it sideways). The particular effect that card generates is listed right after the {tap} symbol.

When you tap a land, you get a point of mana to add to your mana pool. You can then use this mana to cast spells.

Selene says: Actually, there are a few special types of land that don't give you mana . For example, Oasis is a land which can tap to prevent a point of damage to a creature, but it doesn't give you any mana . Always read the card if you're not sure; if a card can be tapped for mana , it will say so. If it doesn't say so, then it can't. Remember the very first rule: if a card contradicts the rules, then the card always takes precedence.

Mathias says: You only get mana from a land when you tap the land for mana . If some spell happens to tap one of your lands , the land doesn't generate any mana . Also, the land can only produce mana at the time you tap it; if something forces the land to stay tap ped, then the land can't generate any more mana . tap ping a land for mana is always done at interrupt speed; we'll explain what that means later.

There are five different types of basic lands , each of which produces mana of a different color. Correspondingly, there are five different colors of spells, each of which has a particular character (see "Color Chart" below). There are also colorless and multicolored spells. We'll discuss spell color in greater detail a little later.

Color Chart

{B} Black Magic: Black magic's power comes from the swamps and bogs; it thrives on death and decay. Many wizards shun black magic's self-destructive nature even as they long for its ruthlessness. Black's traditional foils are green and white.

{U} Blue Magic: Blue Magic flows from the islands and thrives on mental energy. Other wizards fear the blue magicians' ability with artifice and illusion, as well as their mastery of the elemental forces of air and water. Blue's traditional foils are red and green.

{G} Green Magic: Green Magic gets its life from the lush fecundity of the forest. Like nature itself, green Magic can bring both soothing serenity and thunderous destruction. Green's traditional foils are blue and black.

{R} Red Magic: Red Magic feeds on the vast energy boiling deep in the heart of the mountains. Masters of earth and fire, red magicians specialize in the violence of chaos and combat. Red's traditional foils are blue and white.

{W} White Magic: White Magic draws its vitality from the untouched, open plains. Though white magicians focus on spells of healing and protection, they also devote plenty of time to the chivalrous arts of war. White's traditional foils are black and red.

Selene says: Note that mana and land are not the same thing. mana can come from other places besides land, such as from Llanowar Elves, which taps for one point of green mana , or from Apprentice Wizard, which taps to convert one blue mana into three colorless mana . This is why the rules refer to "green mana," "blue mana," and so on, instead of "forest mana," "island mana," and such.

The Cards, Continued

Now that you've identified the land cards, the other ones must be spells. Notice that none of them actually say "spell" on them; that's because there are six different types of spells and it's important to know which type you're casting. So spells are labeled as instants, interrupts, sorceries, enchantments, artifacts, and summons. The differences between these various types of spells will be discussed in detail later on. The main differences are as follows: Mathias says: There's a lot to say about each of these types of spells, but we'll wait until the more detailed discussion.

Let's take a look at a sample spell card, the Hurloon Minotaur. We'll look briefly at each of the labeled sections, then come back and look more closely at some of the concepts involved.

The Hurloon Minotaur card

Card Name: In this case, the card's name is Hurloon Minotaur. Don't count on the "summon" line to give you the complete name of a creature.

Selene says: Don't confuse the name of the creature with the "type" of creature, which will appear under the picture.

Casting Cost: This is the cost, in mana , to cast the spell that the card represents. The cost to bring the Hurloon Minotaur into play is {1}{R}{R}. This stands for two red mana and one "extra" mana . The "extra" mana in a casting cost can be paid for with mana of any color or with colorless mana . For a more detailed explanation of casting cost, see "Basic Spellcasting".

Border: The border serves as an easy visual reminder of the color of the card. A spell's color is technically defined as the color of the mana required to cast it, not counting the "extra" mana . The Hurloon Minotaur requires red mana , so it is a red spell when cast and a red creature while in play. The border helps you remember its color.

Mathias says: Notice that the "color" of the card is defined by the color of the mana in the casting cost, not the border. Cards with no colored mana in their casting cost (or no casting cost at all) are defined as "colorless," not "brown" or "gray"; that's why artifacts and lands are colorless.

Card Type: This card is a summon spell ("Summon Minotaur"), so it is a permanent. Once cast, summon spells remain in play as creatures.

Selene says: For Summon spells, everything after the word "summon" is the "creature type." Other types of spells don't have that extra sub-type. Furthermore, some cards will affect all creatures of a particular type; for example, the Goblin King gives all Goblins a bonus. The type is the only thing that matters for these effects. The Goblin Rock Sled looks like a goblin, and even has "goblin" in its name, but the card type is "Summon Rock Sled" and not "Summon Goblin." This means that it isn't really a goblin and that it isn't affected by the Goblin King. Similarly, the Goblin King itself is "Summon Lord," so it doesn't affect itself.

Card Text: This text box will contain extra information about the card, describing any special abilities it may have. The Hurloon Minotaur doesn't have any special abilities, so the text box is filled in with flavor text. Flavor text is written in italics and has nothing to do with actual game play. We just put it in there to let you know more about the history and multiverse of Dominia.

Artist's Name: In this case, the artist is Anson Maddocks.

Power and Toughness: Only creatures will have power and toughness ratings, so any card with numbers in the lower right corner is a creature. The numbers indicate the creature's power , or attack strength, and toughness , or defense strength. The Hurloon Minotaur has a power of 2 and a toughness of 3. Power and toughness are explained in detail under "The Care and Feeding of Creatures".

Mathias says: It's important to remember that only certain parts of a card have any bearing on its gameplay. The card's name, art, flavor text, artist's name, and border don't influence what a card actually does. For example, if you look at the picture on a Frozen Shade card, it looks as if the creature is floating. This may fool you into thinking that a Frozen Shade can fly, but since the card text doesn't say "Flying," the Shade isn't considered to be flying for game purposes. And even though the flavor text on the Gray Ogre says something about refusing to eat vegetarians, it can still damage other creatures and your opponent, no matter what their eating habits are.

Selene says: Also, cards don't interact in strange ways based solely on their names. Ironroot Treefolk doesn't take extra damage from a Fireball and Water Elemental isn't immune to it, even though trees burn well and water doesn't. You can play Terror against a Wall of Stone, although it might seem odd for a block of stone to die of fright. An Air Elemental can benefit normally from Firebreathing, a creature can have both Holy Strength and Unholy Strength at the same time, and so on. Just keep in mind that it's "Magic," so it doesn't have to make sense... or rather, the rules have to make sense, but the story told by the cards doesn't have to.

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