Magic: The Gathering
Magic the gathering-card back
Magic: The Gathering's card back design [1]
Designer Richard Garfield
Publisher Wizards of the Coast
Players 2 or more
Age range 13+
Setup time < 3 minutes[2]
Playing time ~ 25 minutes[3]
Random chance Some
Skills required Card playing

BoardGameGeek entry

Magic: The Gathering (colloquially "Magic", "MTG", or "Magic Cards") is a collectible card game created by mathematics professor Richard Garfield and introduced in 1993 by Wizards of the Coast. Magic is the first example of the modern collectible card game genre and still thrives today, with an estimated six million players in over seventy countries.[4] Magic can be played by two or more players each using a deck of printed cards or through the internet-based Magic: The Gathering Online.

Each game represents a battle between powerful wizards who use the magical spells, items, and fantastic creatures depicted on individual Magic cards to defeat their opponents. Although the original concept of the game drew heavily from the motifs of traditional fantasy role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons, the gameplay of Magic bears little resemblance to pencil-and-paper adventure games, while having substantially more cards and more complex rules than many other card games.

An organized tournament system and a community of professional Magic players has developed; as has a secondary market for Magic cards. Magic cards can be valuable due to not only their scarcity, but also their utility in game play and the aesthetic qualities of their artwork.


Peter Adkison (then CEO of Wizards of the Coast games company) first met with Richard Garfield to discuss Garfield's new game RoboRally. Adkison was not enthusiastic about the game, as board games are expensive to produce and difficult to market.[5] He did enjoy Garfield's ideas and mentioned that he was looking for a portable game that could be played in the downtime that frequently occurs at gaming conventions. Garfield returned later with a prototype he had been working with on and off over the last few years under the development name of Mana Clash.[5] Adkison immediately saw the potential of the game and agreed to produce it. The game was renamed Magic: The Gathering and underwent a general release on August 5, 1993.[6]

Role-players were enthusiastic early fans of Magic, but the game achieved much wider popularity among strategy gamers. The commercial success of the game prompted a wave of other collectible card games to flood the market in the mid-1990s.

In 1996, Wizards of the Coast established the "Pro Tour",[7] a circuit of tournaments where players can compete for a top prize of US$40,000 for a single weekend-long tournament.[8] Sanctioned through the Duelists' Convocation International, the tournaments added an element of prestige to the game by virtue of the cash payouts and media coverage from within the community.

In 2002, an official online version of the game was released. While unofficial methods of online play existed previously,[9] Magic: The Gathering Online quickly became a success for the company thanks to its rules enforcement, feature-rich environment, and accessible nature.[citation needed] A new, updated version of Magic Online is expected in early 2008.

As of 2003, Wizards has been giving out more than $3,000,000 US dollars in awards and prizes, each season, to players on the Magic: Pro Tour circuit.[10]


  • 1994: Mensa Top five mind games award[11]
  • 1994: Origins Awards for Best Fantasy or Science Fiction Board game of 1993 and Best Graphic Presentation of a Board game of 1993[12]
  • 1999: Inducted alongside Richard Garfield into the Origins Hall of Fame[13]
  • 2003: GAMES Magazine selected Magic for its Games Hall of Fame

Game play

Main article: Magic: The Gathering rules

Magic: The Gathering cards of various types and colors. © Wizards of the Coast, Inc. Images used with permission.

In a game of Magic, two or more players are engaged in a battle as powerful wizards known as planeswalkers. A player starts the game with twenty life points and loses when he or she runs out of them. The most common method of reducing an opponent's life is to attack with summoned creatures, although numerous other methods exist. Reducing an opponent to zero life is the most common way of winning (or losing) the game; running out of cards and attempting to draw from an empty deck will also cause a player to lose, but it is more difficult to inflict this on an opponent. In addition, some cards specify other ways to win or lose the game, such as by poison counters.

Players start with seven cards. Some cards represent "lands," which provide mana or magical energy; this mana is used as magical fuel when the player attempts to cast "spells." Spells and land are the two basic card types in Magic. Spells come in several varieties: "sorceries" and "instants" have a single, one-time effect before they go to the "graveyard;" "enchantments" provide a lasting magical effect; and "summon" spells provide a creature or artifact which the player thereafter controls. More powerful spells cost more mana, or other resources such as: cards which have not yet been played from one's deck or hand; lands, creatures, artifacts and enchantments which have already been played ("permanents"); or even life points. Having said that, spells exist which result in a gain in or return of such resources instead.

Some spells have effects that override normal game rules (e.g., allow a player to play more than one land per turn, which is restricted under normal circumstances). The "Golden Rule of Magic" states that "Whenever a card's text directly contradicts the rules, the card takes precedence."[14] This allows Wizards of the Coast great flexibility in creating cards, but can cause problems when attempting to reconcile a card with the rules (or, even worse, two cards which separately alter the same rule). A detailed rulebook[15] exists to clarify these conflicts.

Deck construction

See also: Magic: The Gathering deck types

A player needs a deck before he or she can play a game of Magic. Beginners typically start with an initial preconstructed deck, known by many magic players as a "precon". In most styles of game play, players may customize their decks with any of the cards they own based on the particular player's technique, playing style, or even the anticipated content of an opponent's deck.

In general, decks are required to be a minimum of sixty cards. Players may use no more than four copies of any named card, with the exception of "basic lands," which act as a standard resource in Magic.[16] Both these rules are loosened in "limited" formats where a small number of new cards are opened for play from booster packs or preconstructed decks, with a minimum deck size of 40 cards and no four-of rule in such formats. Depending on the type of play some more powerful cards are "restricted," which means that only one of that card is allowed per deck, or "banned," meaning that card cannot be used at all.

The decision on what colors to use is a key part of creating a deck. Spells in Magic come in five colors, each with its own strengths and weaknesses, and playing more than one color can help create a more versatile and well-rounded deck. Having said that, reducing the number of colors used increases the statistical likelihood of drawing the lands one needs to cast one's most-important spells. One- and two-color decks are the most common, though three-, four- and even five-color decks can be successful if well-designed.

The colors of Magic

Most spells come in one of five colors.[17] The colors can be seen on the back of the cards, in a pentagonal design, called the "Color Wheel". Clockwise from the top, they are: white, blue, black, red, and green (abbreviated as W, U, B, R, G, respectively; "U" stands for "blue" because "B" denotes Black and "L" land[18]). To play a spell of a certain color, mana of that color is required. This mana is normally generated by a land with one of the basic land types: in order, plains, island, swamp, mountain, and forest.

The balances and distinctions between the five colors form one of the defining aspects of the game. The various strengths and weaknesses of each color are attributed to the fact that each color represents a different "style" of magic.[19]

  • White is the color of order, righteousness, healing, law, community, absolutism and light (although not necessarily "good"). White's strengths are a roster of small but proportionatly very powerful creatures that if used together in large groups can overwhelm an opponent quickly, such as soldiers, knights and paladins; protecting those creatures with enchantments; gaining life and/or preventing damage; imposing restrictions on players; destroying artifacts and enchantments; and the ability to "equalize" the playing field. White creatures are known for their "Protection" from various other colors or even types of card, rendering them completely impervious to harm from those colors or cards. White's weaknesses include its difficulty in directly destroying opposing creatures, its inability to change game plans due to inflexible cards, and the fact that many of its most powerful spells affect all players equally: one of its signature spells, Wrath of God, kills all creatures in play, including the player's own.
  • Blue is the color of intellect, reason, illusion, dreams, creativity, manipulation, and trickery, as well as the classical elements of air and water. Blue's cards are best at letting a player draw additional cards; permanently stealing control of an opponent's cards; returning ("bouncing") permanents to their owner's hands, thus forcing that opponent to replay them; and "countering" (canceling) an opponent's spells, causing the mana to go to waste while the spell itself has no effect. Blue's creatures, which include shapeshifters, sea creatures and wizards, tend to have weaker base statistics than other colors, but commonly have abilities and traits which make them difficult to hurt or block, particularly Flying. Blue's weaknesses include having trouble permanently dealing with spells that have "resolved" without being counterspelled beyond "bouncing" it; the expensive nature of most of its spells (especially its creatures), which is exacerbated by its complete lack of ways to rush more mana into play; and the reactive nature of most of its spells, letting an opponent take the initiative that it may not be able to take back. Having said that, card-drawing and denial are critical elements found in all constructed formats.
  • Black is the color of power, ambition, death, corruption and amorality (although not necessarily "evil"). Black cards are best at removing creatures, making players discard cards from their hand, and raising creatures from the dead. Furthermore, because Black seeks to win at all costs, it has limited access to many abilities or effects that are normally restricted to the other colors (Green's mana acceleration in "Dark Ritual;" both Red direct-damage and White life-gaining in "Drain Life"; Blue's card-drawing in the infamous Necropotence), but these abilities are disproportionately expensive compared to the colors that normally feature them, often forcing payment of life, creatures, or other permanent resources. Black is known for having "Fear" on its creatures, a trait that makes Red, White, Green and Blue creatures unable to block them in combat. Black's main weaknesses are an almost complete inability to deal with enchantments and artifacts, its tendency to hurt itself almost as badly as it hurts the opponent (especially when attempting to deal with White and Green, its ideological enemies), and difficulties in removing other black creatures (though this restriction has been lightened in recent years).[20]
  • Red is the color of freedom, chaos, passion, impulse and fury, as well as lightning, the classical element of fire, and the non-living, geological aspects of the classical element earth (the color Green representing Earth's living side).[21] Red is one of the best colors for destroying opposing lands and artifacts; sacrificing permanent resources for temporary (but hopefully game-winning) power, such as with Final Fortune; and playing spells that deal "direct damage" to creatures or players, like "Lightning Bolt" or "Fireball," which gave rise to another term for direct damage: "burn." Red has a wide array of creatures, but with the exception of the extremely powerful (and infamous) dragons, most of them are fast at the cost of being small and weak, or unbalanced with strong power and weak toughness, rendering them easily destroyed by a weak blocker; it has the vast majority of cards that involve random chance; and some of its cards can turn against or hurt their owner in return for being more powerful for their cost, such as the classic Jackal Pup. Red also shares the trickery theme with Blue and can temporarily steal opponents' creatures or divert their spells, although generally not permanently. Many of Red's most famous creatures have the "Haste" trait, which lets them attack and use many abilities a turn earlier than normal. Red's weaknesses include its inability to destroy enchantments, the random or self-destructive nature of many of its spells, and its generally weak late-game play: most of its cards are designed to win fast or not at all.
  • Green is the color of life, instinct, nature, evolution, ecology and interdependence. Green has a large number of creatures, which tend to have the strongest base statistics in the game for their cost. Many of its spells make them stronger still temporarily, such as Giant Growth; these spells are often referred to as "pumps" or "tricks", as many of these can be played when an opponent believes his creature will win the combat. It can also destroy "unnatural" artifacts and enchantments, increase a player's life total, and accelerate its mana production by strengthening the output of its lands, drawing new ones directly from its deck, or even deploying creatures who themselves can generate mana, like the famous Llanowar elves. Green also has ways to easily produce the other four colors of mana. Green creatures often have "Trample," an ability which lets them deal attack damage to an opponent if blocked by a weaker creature. Green's biggest weakness is that it has few ways of destroying creatures directly, which usually forces it to rely upon the superior efficiency and flexibility of its own creatures in combat. It also has a distinct shortage of flying creatures, though some of its creatures can block as though they had flying, as well as having many very powerful cards that specifically target flying creatures. Finally, it has few gameplay options besides large creatures and "pump" spells, leaving it in dire straits if an opponent can somehow neutralize or destroy its army.

The colors adjacent to each other on the pentagon are "allied" and often have similar, complementary abilities. For example, Blue has a relatively large number of flying creatures, which it shares with White and Black, which are next to it. The two non-adjacent colors to a particular color are "enemy" colors, and are thematically opposed. For instance, Red tends to be very aggressive, while White and Blue are often more defensive in nature. The R&D team at Wizards of the Coast balances the power between the five colors by using the Color Pie to define the colors' differences.[22] This guideline lays out the capabilities, themes, and mechanics of each color and allows for every color to have its own distinct attributes and philosophy. The pie is used to ensure new cards are thematically in the correct color and do not impede on the territory of other colors.

Multi-color cards were introduced in the Legends set and use a gold frame to distinguish them from mono-color cards. These cards require mana from two or more different colors to be played. Multi-color cards tend to combine the philosophy and mechanics of all the colors used in the spell's cost. More recently, two-color "hybrid" cards that can be paid with either of the card's colors (as opposed to both) were introduced in the Ravnica set. Hybrid cards are distinguished by a gradient frame with those two colors. Multi-color cards tend to be proportionally more powerful compared to single-color or hybrid cards as requiring all the mana colors in the card's casting cost is considered to be major handicap.

Artifacts are cards that exist without specific colors of magic. Within the story-telling milieu of Magic, artifacts are magical machines or objects that are created by para-magical or technological means; as such, they do not require a specific color of mana to play (they are "colorless") and can be used by any color. Due to their object-based nature, as of yet there are no artifact sorceries, instants, or enchantments. Typically, artifacts provide abilities that are not unique to any color, or which the designers wished to make available to all colors. Many artifacts are also creatures, often with abilities reflecting their mechanical nature or having abilities from the colors such as flying and fear. However, while generally artifacts are completely colorless in terms of their mana requirements, since the Mirrodin, Ravnica and Future Sight blocks, many artifacts have broken that rule for gameplay-interest purposes: some artifacts require certain colors of mana to use their abilities, though not to play, while others become more powerful or only have effect when different colors of mana, especially more than one or even all colors, are used to play them.

Variant rules

Main article: Variant Magic: The Gathering formats

While the primary method of Magic play is one-on-one using standard deck construction rules, casual play groups as well as Wizards of the Coast have developed many alternative formats for playing the game. The most popular alternatives describe ways of playing with more than two players (with teams or free-for-all) or change the rules about how decks can be built.

Organized play

Magic Players

Officially sanctioned Magic tournaments attract participants of all ages and are held around the world. These players in Rostock, Germany competed for an invitation to a professional tournament in Nagoya, Japan.

Main article: Duelists' Convocation International

Magic: The Gathering has grown tremendously since it was first introduced in 1993, and a large culture has developed around the game. Magic tournaments are arranged almost every weekend in gaming stores, schools, universities, and (in Europe) pubs and bars. Larger tournaments with hundreds of competitors from around the globe sponsored by Wizards of the Coast are arranged many times every year. Large sums of money are paid out to those players who place the best in the tournament.[8] A number of websites report on tournament news, give complete lists for the most currently popular decks, and feature articles on current issues of debate about the game. The DCI (formerly known as the Duelists' Convocation International) is the organizing body for sanctioned Magic events. The DCI is owned and operated by Wizards of the Coast. The "I" came later after the organization went global.

There are two types of organized play, Constructed and Limited.


In Constructed tournaments, each player arrives with a pre-built deck. These decks must abide by the 60-card minimum deck size and four-of card rules. Various tournament formats exist which define what card sets are allowed to be used, and which specific cards are disallowed.

In addition to the main deck, players are allowed a 15-card sideboard. Following the first game of a match, each player is permitted to replace any number of cards in his or her deck with an equal number of cards from his or her sideboard. Thus a player may alter his or her deck to better deal with the opponent's strategy. Tournaments are normally structured so that the first player to win two games is the winner of the match. The original deck configuration is restored before the start of the next match.

There are various formats in which Constructed tournaments can be held. They include Vintage (Type 1), Legacy (Type 1.5), Extended (Type 1.x), Standard (Type 2), and Block. The DCI maintains a Banned and Restricted List for each format, which defines certain abusive cards as not allowed (banned) or restricted to only one copy in a deck (restricted). Banning has generally been rare in the more modern formats, but is considered necessary for some of the older formats to control their power level. Restricting was more common in Magic's past; currently the only format in which there is a Restricted List is Vintage, as the DCI now prefers to ban cards outright rather than restrict them.[23]

Block formats are defined by the cycle of three sets of cards in a given block. For example, the Ravnica block format consists of Ravnica: City of Guilds, Guildpact, and Dissension. Only cards that were printed in one of the sets in the appropriate block can be used in these formats.

Standard is the format defined by the current block, the last completed block, and the most recent core set. The current Standard card pool consists of Time Spiral block, Coldsnap, the Tenth Edition core set, and "Lorwyn" block.[24]

Extended as a format rotates every three years and leaves the six most recent blocks and two most recent core sets.[25] Any additional blocks to be released between rotations are automatically added to this format's card pool. The current extended format consists of the Invasion, Odyssey, Onslaught, Mirrodin, Kamigawa, Ravnica, Time Spiral, and Lorwyn blocks; the Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth edition core sets; and Coldsnap. The first three blocks and Seventh will no longer be legal by late October 2008.

Vintage is considered an eternal format because the card pool never rotates. This means that all the sets that are currently legal will continue to be legal and any new sets will automatically be included in the legal card pool. The only banned cards for Vintage are cards using the ante mechanic, Chaos Orb and Falling Star, two cards that must be flipped onto the table, and Shahrazad, a card that begins a subgame, making tournament games take too much space and time to complete. Because of the expense in acquiring the old cards to play competitive Vintage, most Vintage tournaments held are unsanctioned ones where players are permitted to proxy a certain number of cards.[26] Proxies are treated as stand-ins of existing cards. They are not normally permitted in tournaments sanctioned by the DCI.[27]

Legacy is the other eternal constructed format. It evolved from Type 1.5, a format defined by a banned list that merely consisted of all banned and restricted cards in the old Type 1. In 2004, the format was revitalized by separating the banned list from the rechristened Vintage and banning many old, powerful, and expensive cards such as Mishra's Workshop, Mana Drain, and Bazaar of Baghdad. The result is that Legacy has a lower power level than Vintage, which makes for longer games, and is considerably more affordable. The DCI has attempted to promote the format with the addition of a Legacy Grand Prix circuit. In 2007, the company announced that this format had selected for the final individual portion of the World Championships prior to the fixing a problem that they had made after moving the championships from summer/fall to fall/winter.


Limited tournaments are based on a pool of cards which the player receives at the time of the event. The decks in limited tournaments need only be 40 cards; all the unused cards function as the sideboard.

In sealed deck tournaments, each player receives a 75-card Tournament Pack (containing 45 cards and 30 basic lands) and two booster packs (each with 15 cards) from which to build their deck, though exceptions exist.[28]

In a booster draft, several players (usually eight) are seated around a table and each player is given three booster packs. Each player opens a pack, selects a card from it and passes the remaining cards to his or her left. Each player then selects one of the 14 remaining cards from the pack that was just passed to him or her, and passes the remaining cards to the left again. This continues until all of the cards are depleted. The process is repeated with the second and third packs, except that the cards are passed to the right in the second pack. Players then build decks out of any of the cards that they selected during the drafting and add as many basic lands as they want. Booster draft tournaments are somewhat prone to collusion, as players can hold the cards their neighbors need at the expense of their own deck building. Talking, signaling, and showing cards is forbidden during the drafting process and may be penalized by disqualification from the tournament.
Shadowmage infiltrator

By winning a yearly Invitational tournament, Jon Finkel won the right for this card to feature his design and likeness. © Wizards of the Coast, Inc. Image used with permission.

Tournament structure

The DCI maintains a set of rules for being able to sanction tournaments, as well as runs its own circuit. Many hobby shops offer "Friday Night Magic" tournaments as an entrance to casual competitive play usually organized by a local game store. A special tournament set called the Junior Super Series (now known in the US as the Magic Scholarship Series) is run for underage competitors. This allows for a very broad base of gameplay.

The DCI runs the "Pro Tour" as a series of major tournaments to attract interest. The right to compete in a Pro Tour has to be earned by either winning a so called Pro Tour Qualifier Tournament or being successful in a previous tournament on a similar level.

A Pro Tour is usually structured into two days of individual competition played in the Swiss format (players play rounds against opponents with similar success in previous rounds). On the final day, the top eight players compete with each other in an elimination format to select the winner.

At the end of the competition in a Pro Tour, a player is awarded so called 'Pro Points' depending on his finishing place. If the player finishes high enough, he will also be awarded prize money. Invitation to a Pro Tour, Pro Points and prize money can also be earned in lesser tournaments called 'Grand Prix' that are open to the general public and are held more frequently throughout the year.

Frequent winners of these events have made names for themselves in the Magic community, such as Kai Budde and Jon Finkel. As a promotional tool, the DCI launched the Hall of Fame in 2005 to honor these players after earning 100 lifetime Pro Points and spending nine-ten years on the scene.[7]

At the end of the year the Magic World Championships are held. The World Championship functions like a Pro Tour but competitors have to present their skill in three different formats (usually Standard, booster draft and a second constructed format) rather than one. Another difference is that invitation to the World Championship can be gained not through Pro Tour Qualifiers, but via the national tournament of a country. Each country sends the top four players of the tournament as representatives. There are also other means to be invited to the tournament.

As such, the World Championship also has a team competition which is comprised of the results the members of the national teams put up during the individual competition and the team based competition on the second to last day of the event. During the final day, the top two teams play each other to determine the winner.

At the beginning of the World Championship, new members are inducted into the Hall of Fame. The tournament also concludes the current season of tournament play and at the end of the event, the player who earned the most Pro Points during the year is awarded the title 'Player of the Year'. Also the player who earned the most Pro Points and did not compete in any previous season is awarded the title 'Rookie of the Year'.

Product and marketing

Main article: Magic: The Gathering sets

Magic: The Gathering cards are produced in much the same way as normal playing cards. Each Magic card, approximately 63 x 88 millimeters in size (2.5 by 3.5 inches), has a face which displays the card's name and rules text as well as an illustration appropriate to the card's concept. 9113 unique cards have been produced for the game, many of them with variant editions, artwork, or layouts, and 600-1000 new ones are added each year.[29]

The first Magic cards were printed exclusively in English, but current sets are also printed in Simplified Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.[30]

Magic cards are normally divided into three rarities, which can be differentiated by the color of the expansion symbol.[31] These are Common (Black), Uncommon (Silver), and Rare (Gold). Basic lands are their own rarity, and are colored black as commons. Most new cards are purchased in the form of "Booster Packs" or "Tournament Packs." A fifteen-card Booster Pack will typically contain one Rare, three Uncommons, and eleven Commons. A Tournament Pack typically contains three Rares, ten Uncommons, thirty-two Commons, and thirty Basic Lands.[32] This means that three Booster Packs are roughly equivalent to one Tournament Pack.[33]

The vast majority of Magic cards are marketed to the public in the form of sets. The biennially-released Core Set currently consists of three-hundred and eighty-three reprinted cards, with a mixture of old and new artwork. Tenth Edition is the most recent Core Set and was released on Saturday, July 14, 2007. Newly-designed cards are first sold in expansion sets with a "block" consisting of three theme-related expansion sets released over a period of a year. The first and largest part of a block is the set released in or around October and typically consists of three-hundred and six cards with eighty-eight Rares, eighty-eight Uncommons, one-hundred and ten Commons and twenty Basic Lands. At subsequent four-month intervals, the second and third expansion sets of the block are issued. These two smaller sets each typically consist of one-hundred and sixty-five cards divided into fifty-five Commons, fifty-five Uncommons, fifty-five Rares, and zero Basic Lands. The number of cards per set and the rarity distribution has varied over time.

In 2003, starting with the Eighth Edition Core Set, the game went through its biggest visual change since its creation—a new card frame layout was developed to allow more rules text and larger art on the cards, while reducing the thick, colored border to a minimum.[34] The new frame design aimed to improve contrast and readability using black type instead of the previous white, a new font, and partitioned areas for the name, card type, and power and toughness.

Secondary market

There is an active secondary market in individual cards among players and game shops. On eBay, for example, there are an estimated 30,000 Magic: The Gathering card auctions running at any one time.[citation needed] Many other physical and online stores also sell single cards or "playsets" of four of a card. Common cards rarely sell for more than a few cents and are usually sold in bulk. Uncommon cards and weak rares typically cost under US$1. The most expensive cards in Standard tournament play usually cost approximately US$10-20. On rare occasions if the cards are particularly powerful, some might even sell for US$25-50.

Black lotus

The Beta version of the Black Lotus card is usually considered to be the most valuable, non-promotional, Magic card ever printed. (Unlimited version shown.)
© Wizards of the Coast, Inc.
Image used with permission.

The most expensive card which was in regular print (as opposed to being a promotional or special printing) is Black Lotus, with average prices as of 2007 above US$1,000 and high-quality "graded" copies rising above US$3,000—in 2005, a "Pristine 10 grade" Beckett Grading Services graded Beta Black Lotus was bought by Darren Adams, owner of West Coast Sports Cards & Gaming Distributors in Federal Way, Washington, for a record $20,000.[35] A small number of cards of similar age, rarity, and playability—chiefly among them the other cards in the so-called "Power Nine"—routinely reach high prices as well. In 2003, after the rotation of the Extended tournament format and in combination with the first Type 1 Championships, the prices for such old, tournament-level cards underwent a large, unexpected increase.Template:Verify source

As new sets come out, older cards are occasionally reprinted. If a card has high play value, reprinting will often increase the original version's price because of renewed demand among players. However, if the card is primarily attractive to collectors, reprinting will often decrease the original version's value. Wizards of the Coast formulated an official "Reprint Policy"[36] in 1995 in an attempt to guarantee to collectors the value of many old cards. The Policy details certain cards that are unavailable to be printed again.

Wholesale distributors are not allowed to ship product to foreign nationalities. Additionally, several countries still have import restrictions that could be construed to bar the import of Magic: The Gathering or other collectible card games (Italy, for example, places restrictions on the importation of "playing cards").[citation needed]

Non-English cards often have different prices on the secondary market than their English equivalents, depending on the desirability of the language. Certain languages, such as Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Italian, are less valuable than English cards, while Asian languages, along with Russian and German, are often worth more to the American or English-speaking collector. While this is a highly debated topic and often left to the opinion of the collector, a select number of people are willing to pay extremely high prices for foreign cards.[citation needed]


Each card has an illustration to represent the flavor of the card, often reflecting the setting of the expansion for which it was designed. Magic’s initial few sets were a mixed bag in art quality; while Wizards of the Coast had hired some established and well-known artists, they also commissioned card art from newcomers to the industry with mixed results. Since that initial period, the quality of the artwork has generally stabilized, and many well-known fantasy and science-fiction illustrators have worked for Magic. Wizards of the Coast's purchase of TSR, and with it, the Dungeons & Dragons property, has led to some bleed between the games, with artists performing work for both. Notable artists who have contributed art for Magic cards include John Avon, Gerald Brom, John Coulthart, Tony DiTerlizzi, Mike Dringenberg, Kaja Foglio, Phil Foglio, Donato Giancola, Rebecca Guay, John Howe, Todd Lockwood, Keith Parkinson, Mark Poole, Quinton Hoover, Ron Spencer, Bryan Talbot, Matt Cavotta, Gary Ruddell, Rob Alexander and Kev Walker.

Much of Magic's early artwork was commissioned with little specific direction or concern for visual cohesion.[37] However, after a few years of submissions featuring beings with wings on creatures unable to fly,[38] or multiple creatures in the art of what was intended to be a single creature, the art direction team decided to impose a few constraints so that the artistic vision more closely aligned with the design and development of the cards. Each block of cards now has its own style guide with sketches and descriptions of the various races and places featured in the setting.[39]

A few early sets experimented with alternate art for cards. However, Wizards came to believe that this impeded easy recognition of a card and that having multiple versions caused confusion when identifying a card at a glance.[40] Consequently, alternate art is now only used sparingly and mostly for promotional cards.[41] That said, when older cards are reprinted in new (non-Core Edition, and not "timeshifted" reprints in the Time Spiral set) sets, Wizards of the Coast has guaranteed that they will be printed with new art to make them more collectible.[42]

Ever since 1995, the copyright on all artwork commissioned is transferred to Wizards of the Coast once a contract is signed. However, the artist is allowed to sell the original piece and printed reproductions of it, and for established and prolific Magic artists, this can be a lucrative source of revenue.

As Magic has expanded across the globe, its artwork has had to change for its international audience. Artwork has been edited or given alternate art to comply with the governmental standards. For example, the portrayal of skeletons and most undead in artwork is prohibited by the Chinese government.[43][44]


Main article: Magic: The Gathering storylines

An intricate storyline underlies the cards released in each expansion and is shown in the art and flavor text of the cards, as well as in novels and anthologies published by Wizards of the Coast (and formerly by HarperPrism). It takes place in the multiverse, originally named Dominia but changed to avoid confusion with Dominaria,[45] which consists of an infinite number of planes. Important storyline characters or objects often appear as cards in Magic sets as "Legendary" creatures, unique cards of which there can only be one in play at a time.

The expansion sets from Antiquities through Scourge are set on the plane of Dominaria and are a roughly chronological timeline of that plane's history (with the exception of the Urza's Saga Block). Major recurring characters include Urza and his brother Mishra. The sets from Weatherlight through Apocalypse follow in particular the story of the crew of the Weatherlight, allies of Urza against Yawgmoth. Magic began to venture out of Dominaria and into several new planes such as Mirrodin, Kamigawa, and Ravnica. The Magic storyline returned to Dominaria with the Time Spiral block, and visited Lorwyn with the Lorwyn block.

Controversial aspects


With three to four new sets appearing each year, many players complain that it requires a substantial investment to maintain a Magic collection that is competitive and/or complete. The principal competitive format, Standard, uses only cards from the last completed block, the block currently in print, and the most recent "core set", forcing players who wish to remain competitive to constantly update their collection. Formats such as Extended, Legacy, and Vintage that allow older sets to be played, on the other hand, may have cards that are out-of-print, hard-to-find, or simply widely-used; this can cause older cards with high competitive value to increase in price dramatically depending on the usablility and interactions of the content from various parts of the game.

Many players enjoy the challenge of making a good, solid deck on a tight budget, rather than trying to keep up on the most cutting edge cards. The viability of "budget" decks is at best variable for serious tournament competition; some metagames have strong decks composed entirely of commons and uncommons, but others require an $80 investment in land cards to even begin. The average cost of a good quality Block deck (which is arguably the cheapest Constructed format) for the Ravnica block is well over US$100, and in the Vintage metagame, cards with only a tiny printing in the original release of the game are format-definers and are considered essential for competitive play.

Those who wish to play the game without paying for rarer cards can use proxy cards or "gold bordered" decks, neither of which are tournament legal, or use free Magic software clients such as Magic Workstation and Apprentice.

Luck vs. skill

Magic, like many other games, combines chance and skill. A common complaint, however, is that there is too much luck involved with the basic resource of the game: land. Too much land (mana flood) or too little (mana drought or mana screw), especially early in the game, can ruin a player's chance at victory without the player having made a mistake. A common response is to say that the luck in the game can be minimized by proper deck construction, as a higher land count can reduce mana problems. The standard land count in most decks ranges from 18 to 26, although the use of special spells or lands (such as Land Tax, Harrow, and Brushland) and the relative costs of the main spells within the deck can substantially increase or decrease the number of lands required. Other cards can minimize the player's dependence on mana.

A "mulligan" rule was later introduced into the game, first informally in casual play and then in the official game rules. The modern "Paris mulligan" allows players to shuffle an unsatisfactory opening hand back into the deck at the start of the game, draw a new hand with one fewer card, and repeat until satisfied.[46] The "standard mulligan," still used in some casual play circles and in multiplayer formats on Magic Online, allows a single "free" redraw of seven new cards if a player's initial hand contains seven, six, one or no lands.[47]

Net decking

The Internet has played an important role in competitive Magic. Strategy discussions and tournament reports frequently include a listing of the exact contents of a deck and descriptions of its performance against others. Some players will take this information and construct a similar (or even the same) deck, relying on the expertise and experience of other players. This strategy, referred to as "net decking," is often a good one, but it is not a guarantee that the player will be able to repeat the deck's earlier success. The player may be inexperienced, unfamiliar with the operation of the deck, or enter an event where a large number of other players have also "net decked." In such a tournament, a metagamed-deck (a deck designed to defeat common builds in an environment) may be a superior choice. Some players advocate Limited formats of competitive Magic over Constructed formats because of this phenomenon.

Demonic themes

Lord of the pit

© Wizards of the Coast, Inc. Image used with permission.

For the first few years of its production, Magic: The Gathering featured a small number of cards with names or artwork that implied demonic or occultist themes (such as Demonic Tutor and Unholy Strength, which both featured pentagrams in their artwork). Although such cards were in a minority, their presence led to some criticism from religious groups, and in 1995 the company elected to remove such references from the game.

In 2002, believing that the depiction of demons was becoming less controversial and that the game had established itself sufficiently, Wizards of the Coast reversed this policy and began to reprint cards with "demon" in their names.[48]


The original set of rules prescribed that all games were to be played for ante. Each player would remove a card at random from the deck they wished to play with and the two cards would be set aside. At the end of the match, the winner would take and keep both cards.

Early sets included a few cards with rules designed to interact with this gambling aspect, allowing replacements of cards up for ante, adding more cards to the ante, or even permanently trading cards in play. The cards came with the instruction that they should be removed from the deck in a game that wasn't being played for ante.

The ante concept became controversial because many regions had restrictions on games of chance. The rule was later made optional because of these restrictions and because of most players' reluctance to possibly lose a card that they owned. The gambling rule is forbidden at sanctioned events and is now mostly a relic of the past, though it still sees occasional usage in friendly games as well as the "five color" format. The last card to mention ante was in the 1995 expansion set Homelands.[49]


Main article: Collectible card game#Patent

A patent was granted to Wizards of the Coast in 1997 for "a novel method of game play and game components that in one embodiment are in the form of trading cards" that includes claims covering games whose rules include many of Magic's elements in combination, including concepts such as changing orientation of a game component to indicate use (referred to in the Magic and Vampire: The Eternal Struggle rules as "tapping") and constructing a deck by selecting cards from a larger pool.[50] The patent has aroused criticism from some observers, who believe some of its claims to be invalid.[51]

In 2003, the patent was an element of a larger legal dispute between Wizards of the Coast and Nintendo, regarding trade secrets related to Nintendo's Pokémon Trading Card Game. The legal action was settled out of court, and its terms were not disclosed.[52]

Notes and references

  • Moursund, Beth (2002). The Complete Encyclopedia of Magic: The Gathering. New York, NY: Thunder's Mouth Press. ISBN 1-56025-443-2. 
  • Baldwin & Waters (1998). The Art of Magic: A fantasy of world building and the art of the Rath Cycle. Renton, WA: Wizards of the Coast. ISBN 0-7869-1178-6. 
  • "The Games Magazine Hall of Fame". (December 2003). Games, p. 48.
  • Magic: The Gathering Core Set 9 Starter CD
  1. Images used with permission of Wizards of the Coast, Inc.
  2. Excluding deck construction
  3. Games may take much longer or shorter depending on a deck's play style and the number of players
  4. Wizards of the Coast (2006-05-03). Press Release. Retrieved on 2006-09-30. “There are more than six million Magic players in 52 countries” Note that the "six million" figure is the one used by Wizards of the Coast; while they would be in the best position to know through tournament registrations and card sales, they also have an interest in presenting an optimistic estimate to the public.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Shannon Appelcline (2006-08-03). A Brief History of Game #1: Wizards of the Coast, 1990-Present. Retrieved on 2006-09-30.
  6. Wizards of the Coast. Alpha, Beta, and Unlimited Editions. Retrieved on 2007-02-15.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Chris Galvin (2005-06-06). The Magic Pro Tour Hall of Fame. Retrieved on 2006-09-30.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Duelists' Convocation International. 2006 Pro Tour Prize Structures. Retrieved on 2006-09-30. The $40,000 figure is as of 2006. The total prize purse is US$240,245 for individual tournaments.
  9. Notably, the Apprentice program. See Magic: The Gathering video games.
  10. 10th Anniversary Press Release (2003-02-17). Retrieved on 2008-01-17.
  11. American Mensa mind games past winners.
  12. Origins Award Winners (1993). Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design. Retrieved on 2007-11-01.
  13. Origins Award Winners (1998). Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design. Retrieved on 2007-11-01.
  14. Rule 103.1 of the Comprehensive Rules.
  15. Magic Rules for Tourney Players. Retrieved on 2006-09-30. This website will contain a link to the most up-to-date version of the Comprehensive Rules.
  16. Note that the Golden Rule applies here as well, and one card exists that breaks the "four of" rule — Relentless Rats.
  17. There has occasionally been talk of adding a 6th color to Magic. It has not yet happened, however; an article on the consideration of "purple" for the set Planar Chaos is at The Color Purple.
  18. Anatomy of a Magic Card
  19. A series of articles written by Mark Rosewater describing each color in depth (as well as multicolor cards, artifact or colorless cards, and color-hybrid cards) can be found at the game's official site at The Great White Way, True Blue, In the Black, Seeing Red, It's Not Easy Being Green, Just the Artifacts, Ma'am, and Midas Touch.
  20. Card of the Day — July, 2006 (2006-07-27). Retrieved on 2006-09-30. “Black removal spells like Terror or Dark Banishing that could take out large-sized creatures historically had the drawback of not being able to affect other black creatures, and sometimes not artifact creatures either. Since then this drawback has been tweaked in many ways that no longer limit the cards to just non-black or non-artifact.”
  21. Brady Dommermuth (2006-02-01). Ask Wizards. Retrieved on 2006-09-26. “The particular issue of red's connection to earth and stone has another aspect as well, though. Red has and will continue to have earth/stone-themed cards. But green wants to be connected to earth as well, in the soil sense. So red gives up a few of its 'earth' cards for green's sake.”
  22. Mark Rosewater (2003-08-18). The Value of Pie. Retrieved on 2006-09-30.
  23. Mark Rosewater (2003-02-17). Banned on the Run. Retrieved on 2006-09-30. “Restricting a card makes games more swingy as the variance of drawing the powerful card has a huge impact on the game. We accept the swinginess in Vintage as we want players to have access to all the cards. But in other formats, we err on the side of making the formats a little less luck-based.”
  24. Coldsnap is a special exception to the usual rule.
  25. The number of sets legal in Extended will then increase again with each new release; there are currently seven blocks and three core sets legal.
  26. Avi Flamholz (2004-07-13). Money, Proxies, and the Must-Have List — A Case for Vintage. Retrieved on 2006-09-30. “More and more, the larger U.S. Vintage tournaments are unsanctioned and allow growing numbers of proxies (usually five to ten, sometimes unlimited). In fact, I would be hard pressed to find a sanctioned Type 1 tournament (A.K.A. proxy-free) in the last year or so that drew more than thirty people (other than major conventions like GenCon).”
  27. Proxies are permitted in sanctioned tournaments if a card is damaged or worn in the course of competition, however. They are also permitted in Limited if the opened cards are already damaged.
  28. Sets without Tournament Packs such as Core Sets use five booster packs instead when playing sealed. Prerelease tournaments for expansion sets usually offer 1 Tournament Pack of the base-set for the block and 3 booster packs of the recently released expansion, so that the new expansion is prominently featured.
  29. Gatherer. Retrieved on 2007-11-26., the official Magic card database.
  30. Mark Rosewater (2006-02-06). Coldsnap Q & A. Retrieved on 2006-09-30. shows those 9 languages as of the summer of 2006. Magic was previously printed in Traditional Chinese (used in Taiwan) and Korean, but this stopped after Urza's Saga, when Simplified Chinese was added, the official language of the People's Republic of China. See for a language history, albeit one that is not updated any more.
  31. Prior to Exodus, all expansion symbols were black, so this is not accurate for earlier cards.
  32. "Typically" is used due to a change in card distribution in Time Spiral which allows premium cards of any rarity to replace Common cards instead of cards of their own rarity. See Purple Reign for more information.
  33. Tournament Packs contain one more Uncommon and one less Common than would be acquired from three Booster Packs, so they aren't exactly equal.
  34. Card Face Redesign FAQ (2003-01-20). Retrieved on 2006-09-30.
  35. Beckett Magic The Gathering Magazine, Issue 3, December 2005/January 2006, pg. 10, "Sold! $20,000!"
  36. Official Reprint Policy has Wizards of the Coast's Reprint Policy. Note, however, that important individuals such as Mark Rosewater have indicated that the policy was a mistake; nevertheless, they have also said that they will maintain the policy to insure Wizards' promises are taken seriously.
  37. Jarvis, Jeremy (2007-01-01). Ask Wizards. Retrieved on 2007-04-21. “In the ‘old days’, art descriptions were vague suggestions of images... Neither continuity nor the idea of worldbuilding (creating distinctive and unique worlds and settings) would become issues until some time later.”
  38. Buehler, Randy (2003-11-21). Flight of Fancy. Retrieved on 2007-04-21. Whippoorwill is one infamous example.
  39. Cavotta, Matt (2005-09-07). The Magic Style Guide. Retrieved on 2007-04-21.
  40. Chase, Elaine (2002-06-17). Ask Wizards. Retrieved on 2007-02-15. “While we don't like to completely rule anything out, there currently aren't any plans to repeat the alternate art within a set model. The main reason is that most players recognize cards through the artwork.”
  41. A notable exception are Basic Land cards, but those are easily identifiable due to the oversized mana symbol in their text boxes.
  42. Rosewater, Mark (2004-04-26). Collecting My Thoughts. Retrieved on 2006-06-30.
  43. Chinese Skeletons by Magic Arcana,, March 2002
  44. Alternate Chinese Art in Ravnica, Part 1 by Magic Arcana,, November 2005
  45. Dommermuth, Brady (2007-02-15). February 15, 2007. Ask Wizards. Wizards of the Coast. Retrieved on 2007-12-30.
  46. Rosewater, Mark (2004-02-23). Starting Over. Retrieved on 2007-02-11.
  47. Smith, Bennie (2006-04-27). Nephilim Are Prismatastic!. Retrieved on 2007-02-11. This article explains this mulligan rule in the Prismatic format, where it is called a "big deck" mulligan. The rule was added to all multiplayer Magic Online later, as explained in this official announcement.
  48. Mark Rosewater. Where Have All The Demons Gone Today.
  49. Timmerian Fiends was the last ante card printed.
  50. US patent 5662332
  51. Varney, Allen (2006-05-03). The Year in Gaming. The Austin Chronicle. Retrieved on 2007-06-03.
  52. Pokemon USA, Inc. and Wizards of the Coast, Inc. Resolve Dispute. FindArticles (2003-12-29). Retrieved on 2007-09-21.

See also

External links

Official sites
Unofficial sites
Magic: The Gathering sets
Advanced Level Core sets: Alpha, Beta, Unlimited, Revised, 4th Edition, 5th Edition, 6th Edition, 7th Edition, 8th Edition, 9th Edition, 10th Edition
Expert Level Early Sets
Arabian Nights, Antiquities, Legends, The Dark, Fallen Empires, Homelands
Expert Level Block Expansion Sets

Ice Age Block: Ice Age, Alliances, Coldsnap
Mirage Block: Mirage, Visions, Weatherlight
Rath Cycle: Tempest, Stronghold, Exodus
Urza Block: Urza's Saga, Urza's Legacy, Urza's Destiny
Masques Block: Mercadian Masques, Nemesis, Prophecy

Invasion Block: Invasion, Planeshift, Apocalypse
Odyssey Block: Odyssey, Torment, Judgment
Onslaught Block: Onslaught, Legions, Scourge
Mirrodin Block: Mirrodin, Darksteel, Fifth Dawn
Kamigawa Block: Champions of Kamigawa, Betrayers of Kamigawa, Saviors of Kamigawa

Ravnica Block: Ravnica: City of Guilds, Guildpact, Dissension
Time Spiral Block: Time Spiral, Planar Chaos, Future Sight
Lorwyn Mini-Block: Lorwyn, Morningtide
Shadowmoor Mini-Block: Shadowmoor, Eventide
Alara Block: Shards of Alara, Conflux, Alara Reborn

Un-Sets Starter Level Sets Compilations/reprint/gift box sets
Unglued, Unhinged

Portal, Portal Second Age, Portal Three Kingdoms, Starter, Starter 2000

Chronicles, Renaissance, Anthologies, Battle Royale, Beatdown, Deckmasters, Masters Edition