This is part two in a series of articles designed to teach you how to play Magic: the Gathering. This article will go over the five colors you'll find in the game and the basics behind mana costs for spells.

Colors

Magic cards come in five colors. Each color has its own strengths and weaknesses and its own themes throughout:

  • White is the color of knights and angels, soldiers and organized armies. White mana is drawn from the vast Plains of the worlds and is represented by a shining sun symbol. White magic tends to be used for healing its caster and its armies, increasing the combat abilities of its entire army, and in moments of desperation (or it all being part of your plan), it calls down the might of the heavens to create Catastrophes. Its strengths are a good mix of early offense with later defense, its ability to punish opposing creatures that dare attack it, and its ability to reset the game by destroying all creatures on all sides of the battlefield. It is weakest when a creature doesn't need to attack to disrupt its gameplan.
  • Blue is the color of artifice and illusion, knowledge and cunning. Defended by sea birds, merfolk, mages, drakes, sphinxes and elementals of the air and sea, blue mages would rather avoid combat altogether. Blue mana comes from the Islands of the worlds and is represented by a waterdrop symbol. Blue magic is used to deflect and deter enemies, sapping opposing forces of their power and keeping them from fighting altogether. Blue also has the power to Negate and Cancel opposing spells before they can be completed and even persuade enemy creatures to join your forces. Its strengths are its ability to counter opposing spells, draw a much greater nubmer of spells than the opposition, and its interaction with the various artifacts of Magic. Once something reaches the battlefield, however, it can be difficult for blue to deal with it.
  • Black is the color of darkness, deceit, and greed, making pacts with demons, foul spirits, and vampires. Black mana is drawn from the Swamps of the worlds and is represented by a skull symbol. Black mana is used to spread death and decay to opposing creatures, plaguing and poisoning their lands, and stripping away access to their thoughts and spells. Its strengths are its ability to destroy at pinpoint opposing creatures and lands, the ability to force opponents to lose cards in hand, and weaken creatures globally. Those deals with the dark can come back to bite you, as black spells often cannot destroy black creatures, and black's most powerful creatures often exact a toll on the caster other than mana. In addition, black is powerless to stop opposing artifacts and enchantments once they hit play.
  • Red is the color of fire, chaos, and anarchy. Amidst the dragons and giants, red mages control the whims of lizardmen, goblins, and nomadic tribes as best they can, sparking fire and lightning from the sky to damage their opponent's creatures and their opponents themselves. Red mana is drawn from the Mountains of the worlds and is represented by a fireball symbol. Red magic burns away opposing forces, scorches the opposition itself, and tears the land and its artifacts asunder in moments of raw rage. Its strengths are its ability to deal damage directly to creatures and players, the tools to destroy opposing artifacts in great quantity, and the rage and speed its creatures attack with. Red's weaknesses are its inability to deal with opposing enchantments and the chaos that many of its spells require to be most effect, destroying things at random, forcing you to give up a spell at random, or tossing the known aside for the unknown.
  • Green is the color of nature, life, and elemental strength. Creatures big and small, from snakes and insects to mighty beasts, elementals, and wurms walk nature's path. Green mana is drawn from the Forests of the worlds and is represented by a tree symbol. Green magic allows its wielder to draw more energy from the land, quickly discover more terrain to draw from, and strengthen its creatures individually with the power teeming from the world. With that extra energy, the green mage can bring forth the largest creatures in the game or call forth a massive army with frightening speed. Its strengths are its ability to accelerate into bigger creatures and spells than the other colors, destroy opposing artifacts and enchantments with ease, and using nature's force to push its creatures over opposing ones. Its weakness is its inability to deal with opposing creatures outside of combat. If the enemy doesn't want to fight directly with the green mage, there's not a lot he or she can do about it.
Lands

Lands are the base resources used in the game. Lands produce mana which is used to summon creatures and cast spells. Each of the five colors has a basic land type with which to draw from - Plains for white, Island for blue, Swamp for black, Mountain for red and Forest for green. These land types have special rules associated with them - if a card has one of these five types, it can be tapped to produce one mana of the appropriate color. You will see lands other than these five as well, and some of them have one or more of these land types. This implied ability associated with the land type extends to those cards as well.

As the basic resource of the game, lands have special rules as opposed to other cards. While you can cast as many spells as you like in a turn (as long as you can pay their costs), you are limited to playing one land per turn, and only on your turn. This rule helps keep the development of the game even between players, as long as they draw land cards. If you don't have a land card in your hand on your turn, you simply don't get to play one that turn - there is no additional penalty.

Costs

The other cards in the game cost mana to play. This cost is represented by the symbols in the upper right corner of the card. You can see those symbols in the costs of the following cards:

Each of these cards costs one mana of the appropriate color to cast. You tap a Plains to add a white mana to cast Elite Vanguard. Let's take a look at some other costs.

  • White Knight - This card costs two white mana to cast. You need to tap two Plains to pay for this spell. You'll note that the colored mana symbols do not stack on each other - each one represents exactly one mana of that color.
  • Runeclaw Bear - This card costs one green mana and one generic mana (represented by the 1 in they grey symbol) to cast. You need to tap one Forest and one land of any type (including another Forest) to pay for this spell.
  • Divination - This card costs one blue mana and two generic mana to cast. You'll note that the generic mana symbols do stack - there is only one generic mana symbol in the cost of any spell, and that symbol tells you how much generic mana the spell costs in addition to the colored mana. You need to tap one Island and two other lands of any type to pay for this spell.
  • Shatterskull Giant - This card costs two red mana and two generic mana to cast. You can see the mix here between multiple colored mana symbols and the single generic mana symbol. You need to tap two Mountains and two lands of any type to pay for this spell.
  • Underworld Dreams - This card costs three black mana to cast. There is no limit to the number of colored mana symbols in the cost of a spell (other than formatting to fit on the card). You need to tap three Swamps to pay for this spell.

You are not limited to playing just one color of mana and cards in your deck. but with playing only one land a turn, spells like White Knight and Underworld Dreams are much harder to cast in a deck with multiple colors. This is at the heart of the core tension that makes Magic so interesting - you get rewarded with better spells at the cost by sticking to one color, but in turn you are then limited by that color's inherent weaknesses.

Up next, I'll go over the seven other card types that make up the game of Magic.