Now that you've gotten to see the different types of cards in the game of Magic, let's take a look at the rules of a turn and show you a few sample turns to get a feel for the flow and pace of the game.

In the game of Magic, each player starts the game with twenty life and a deck, which they shuffle and draw seven cards from.  Each turn has the following phases and steps, which occur in the same order every time:

  • Beginning Phase - The beginning phase consists of three steps:
    • Untap Step - In the untap step, the player untaps all permanents he or she controls
    • Upkeep Step - In the upkeep step, both players get the opportunity to cast instants and play abilities.  Many cards have abilities that trigger at the beginning of a player's upkeep step, such as Cunning Lethemancer.  Those abilities happen here as well.
    • Draw Step - At the beginning of a player's draw step, that player draws a card.  Then each player gets the opportunity to cast instants and play abilities again.
  • Main Phase (Pre-Combat) - During a player's main phase, that player may cast any type of spell as long as nothing else is being cast at that time.  Once a turn, that player may also play a land.  All players get the opportunity to cast instants and play abilities during the main phase as well.
  • Combat Phase -
    • Beginning of Combat Step - All players get the opportunity to cast instants and play abilities before attacking creatures are declared.  Once this step has been entered, the player whose turn it is can no longer cast non-instant spells until combat is over.
    • Declare Attackers Step - The player whose turn it is chooses which creatures he would like to have attack, and which players or planeswalkers those creatures will be attacking.  To be able to attack, a creature must have been under that player's control since the beginning of the untap step and must pay the cost for attacking which is tapping the creature.  If a creature is tapped, it can't be tapped again to pay this cost, and thus can't attack.  Once attackers are declared, players get the opportunity to cast instants and play abilities again.
    • Declare Blockers Step - Any player who is being attacked or has a planeswalker that is being attacked may choose to use his creatures to block the oncoming attack.  To block, a creature must be untapped, but blocking does not have the same cost associated with it that attacking does.  Put the blocking creature in front of the attacking creature to make it easy to remember what is blocking what.  More than one creature can block an attacker; if that happens, the attacker gets to choose what order he or she will fight the blockers in.  The defending player may also choose to not block at all.  Once blockers are declared, players get the opportunity to cast instants and play abilities again.
    • Damage Step - Each creature deals damage equal to its power to whatever is in front of it.  If a creature is attacking a player and isn't blocked, that damage is dealt to the player and his or her life total is reduced by the power of the attacking creature.  If a planeswalker is being attacked, remove that much loyalty from the planeswalker.  Except for creatures with certain abilities, if a creature is blocked by another creature, the two will damage each other at the same time.  If a creature takes damage equal to or greater than its toughness, the creature dies.  If there are two of more creatures blocking an attacker, the attacking creature deals at least enough damage to destroy the first blocker (if it can) before moving on to the next.
    • End of Combat - Players get the opportunity to cast instants and play abilities again before returning to the main phase.
  • Main Phase (Post-Combat) - This is the same as the pre-combat main phase.  The player whose turn it is can once again cast creatures, artifacts, enchantments, planeswalkers, and sorceries.  If they have not yet played a land this turn, they can play one here.  All players get an opportunity to cast instants and play abilities.
  • Ending Phase - There are two parts to the ending phase, the end of turn step and the cleanup step.
    • End of Turn Step - The end of turn step is the last chance players have to cast instants and play abilities in a turn.
    • Cleanup Step - Effects that last until the end of the turn wear off here.  Damage wears off at the same time.  If the player whose turn it is has more than seven cards in his hand, he or she discards down to seven cards.  The turn then passes to the player to their right.

This whole process can be rather intimidating for a new player (the Comprehensive Rules document covers the turn in roughly 10 pages) but thankfully for the new player, most of this can be boiled down to:

  • Draw a card.
  • Play a land (if you have one).
  • Play spells.
  • Attack.

Let's take a look at this through a few sample turns with some basic creatures.  You start with the following hand:

3xPlains, Elite Vanguard, Silvercoat Lion, Veteran Swordsmith, Pillarfield Ox

On the first turn, the player that goes first does not draw a card, so let's look over the rest of the things you can do on your turn.  You can play a land, so you do, putting a Plains into play.  You are able to make one white mana with that Plains, which is enough to cast Elite Vanguard.  You do this by turning the Plains sideways to indicate that it's been used (tapping it) and put Elite Vanguard from your hand into play.  Elite Vanguard can't attack this turn since he didn't start the turn in play.  Since you can't attack, can't play another land, and can't cast anything else in your hand at the moment, you have nothing more you can do on your turn, so you say you're done, and your opponent goes.  They draw a card, put a Mountain into play, and say they're done.  You don't have to use all of your mana every turn and there is no penalty for not using it.

It's your turn again and you draw another Plains - in a few turns, you'll be able to cast everything in your hand!  You play a second Plains, tap them both to add two white mana to your mana pool, and use that mana to cast Silvercoat Lion.  The Lion can't attack since he just came into play, but your Elite Vanguard can attack.

You declare an attack, using Elite Vanguard to attack your opponent.  You tap Elite Vanguard as the cost for attacking.  Your opponent has no creatures to block with, so we go to damage, where Elite Vanguard deals damage equal to its power to the opponent - two damage in this case.  This damage drops them from 20 to 18 life.  Nine more shots like that and the game is won.  Note that you only get to attack once per turn, so if you have more than one creature that can attack, you can't attack with one creature, see what your opponent does, then attack with another.

You have no more mana to use on your turn, so you are out of things to do and are done for the turn.  Your opponent draws their card, plays another Mountain, and taps both Mountains for two red mana.  He uses that to play Sparkmage Apprentice.  Let's take a moment here to talk about triggered abilities, since Sparkmage Apprentice has one.

Triggered Abilities

Some permanents (and even spells) have effects that happen only at certain times.  Sparkmage Apprentice, for example, has the following effect:

When Sparkmage Apprentice enters the battlefield, it deals 1 damage to target creature or player.

The time the effect happens is before the comma - in this case, when Sparkmage Apprentice enters play after being cast. (The battlefield is the area of play where permanents reside after being cast.) The effect is after the comma.  Sparkmage Apprentice's controller (the person who played her) chooses a target, and Sparkmage Apprentice deals one damage to that target.  The time condition for a triggered ability can be as simple as entering the battlefield, or as complicated as the game would like.

Back to the game, and your opponent uses Sparkmage Apprentice's triggered ability to deal one damage to Elite Vanguard.  Since Elite Vanguard only has one point of toughness, it's destroyed. A creature is destroyed when it has taken damage equal to or greater than its toughness. You put the Elite Vanguard in your graveyard and your opponent passes the turn, since he can't attack with Sparkmage Apprentice.

You untap your two Plains and draw for the turn.  It's Kor Hookmaster, a creature that taps an opponent's creature and keeps it tapped for a turn.  You play your land for the turn, another Plains, and tap all three to play the freshly drawn Hookmaster.  It comes into play and taps your opponent's Sparkmage Apprentice.  Now you attack with Silvercoat Lion, tapping it to pay the cost for attacking.  Your opponent's Sparkmage Apprentice can't block since it's tapped, so he has no choice but to take the two damage and go from 18 to 16.  Things are looking really good for you.  You can't play anything else this turn, so you pass the turn to your opponent.

They untap their Mountains, but not the Sparkmage Apprentice, as the restriction from Kor Hookmaster's triggered ability overrides the usual game rules. If the rules say you can do something, but a card in play says you can't do that thing, the card takes precedence.  Can't always trumps can. They draw a card and play a third Mountain, and then tap all three mountains to play Molten Ravager, a creature with an activated ability.

Activated Abilities

Some permanents have abilities that can be played at any time.  These abilities are called activated abilities because they are activated by paying a cost.  Molten Ravager, for example, has the following ability:

R: Molten Ravager gets +1/+0 until end of turn.

The cost for the ability is to the left of the colon.  In this case, the cost is a single red mana.  The effect is after the colon.  You play activated abilities the same way you would play instants - you say you're playing the ability and then pay the cost, then all players get a chance to respond using a system known as the stack.  We'll cover that in the next article.  Once you pay a red mana, Molten Ravager gets +1/+0 until the end of the turn.  You can play an ability as many times as you'd like, as long as you can pay the cost.

That's certainly changed the game as it's going to be hard to get your attackers through a creature with four toughness like Molten Ravager.  The game continues on from here, but we'll leave it at this point for now and turn our attention to one of the most important concepts in the game, the stack.