Welcome to Part 1 of How to Play Magic: the Gathering: Baby’s First Magic Deck!
Since 1993, Magic: the Gathering has brought joy to all ages. Now with multiple ways to play, including with little to no start up cost, it’s more accessible than ever. If 2020 has taught me one thing, it’s that we need a little bit more Magic in our lives. So fire up your, PC’s and mobile devices. Get those shuffling hands ready, and throw on your favorite late 90s jam on Spotify.
Okay so the first step to playing MtG is having a deck to play with. Each deck consist of at least 60 cards. In order to do that, you need some cards, and a little bit of a starting point, especially if you’ve never built your own deck before. This is where it gets tricky if you’re new to MtG. Don’t you worry, though. Building decks, trying them out, and fine tuning them is part of the fun of Magic the Gathering! Not every deck has to be the best deck in the world, and not every deck you play has to be your original creation. In fact, there are plenty of resources out there to help you build your first deck without too much stress. The key is access to the cards, and you can start playing digital Magic for free.
There are a many types of decks and play styles, but for your first Magic the Gathering deck, we are going to focus on a basic mono colored deck for the Standard play type. For now, use what you have access to. You can find so many deck lists online to start off with. You can even search for specific play formats, or color combinations. Many of the newer deck list are crafted for ranked online play, but don’t be intimidated by the rarity of the cards in it. There are plenty of ways to earn specific cards in MtgA, or trade for cards you want in MtgO and in paper capacities as well.
But first, what is a ‘Magic Card’ and what does it do?
What is a ‘Magic’card?
Magic: the Gathering cards exist in the physical and digital planes. Regardless of the format you play, except for very specific events, the cards and their rules stay the same. There are four levels of rarity, and two categories of cards, which are then broken down into groups and sub groups. You have Land cards, and Spell cards. Land cards are used to cast Spell cards. Each Spell card has a mana cost which represents how many Land cards you need to cast that spell, even if that cost is 0. In this section we’ll dive into the different type of Land cards, and the subcategories of Spell cards.
Every Magic: the Gathering card will have text on it depicting the type of card it is. Cards can be a single type, like a Basic Land – Forest, or a combination of types, like an Enchantment Creature – Artifact. There are also cards that change their type under certain situations, like an Enchantment Card that turns a Land card into a Creature type. I know it’s confusing, and I promise it won’t be, because we are going over all that right now.
So let’s start with the most basic, and most necessary card in every Magic the Gathering deck, or library: Lands.
In Magic: the Gathering a basic deck begins with roughly 24 Land cards, depending on the style you’re playing. Land is the mana of your library, or the deck you’re playing with. It is what allows you to cast your spell cards. Creatures need a place to exist, and so Land cards give you a place to put your creatures, or cast your sorcery spells. Mana is represented by different types of Land, or colors. Black is Swamp. Blue is Island. Red is Mountain. Green is Forest. White is Plains. Each color gives you an idea of the types of Spell cards you may find. Blue spells tend to lean towards controlling your opponent. Red is often direct damage, and Goblins. Black is where you’ll find a lot of Vampires and Zombie types, as well as cards to return cards from your graveyard. Green is big on mana production, which allows big creatures like Kogla, the Titan Ape, and Elves. White is all about the life gain.
You decide the type of deck you want to build, and what colors you want to use. For this post we’re going to build a mono color deck since it’s our first one. My color of choice will be Green because it easily produces mana, and there’s a pretty fun ‘Food’ deck making the rounds. The deck I’m going to build was created by Mason Clark on MTGGoldfish. The deck we are building uses 15 Basic Land – Forest and then 7 other ‘fancy’ land for a total of 21 Land cards. If you’re playing with what I call, “fancy” Land cards, make sure you pay attention to their abilities. Many come in tapped, which means you can’t use them the same turn you put them into play on the battlefield. Don’t worry if you don’t have all the fancy land on the deck list. You can either craft it using Wildcards in MtgA, or trade for them in MtgO, or use whatever Green mana you have in your collection, and note the cards you want to pick up later.
Now that we have our 21 Land cards for our Green mana, we can move onto to filling our deck with Spell cards. For this tutorial on how to build a MtG deck, I’m using this deck list by Mason Clark which has 25 Creature cards in it. Creature cards cost mana, or Land, to cast them into the battlefield. Each card has a mana cost in the top right corner, and can only be played during your Main Phases, unless you have specific circumstances saying otherwise, for example another card that allows you to put Creature cards into play under special circumstances. One Creature ability, Flash, allows you to play the Creature card as if it were an Instant card, but more on that later.
Creature cards come in with a power and toughness marked on the bottom right corner of the card. This determines how much damage (power) they do, and how much they can take (toughness). Power and Toughness can change depending on other Spell cards, like Sorceries, Enchantments, and Equipment. A creature dies when their toughness is reduced to 0 or below. A creature then leaves the battlefield and sits in your graveyard with any other Spell cards you’ve cast, discarded or milled. There are multiple factors that come into play as to whether a Creature card is considered ‘good’. Just remember, a Bone Crusher Giant in a mono Green deck is mostly useless, but will do wonders in a deck with right mana to cast it, or cards to strategize around it.
How do I replace cards in prebuilt decks?
This is a question that comes up a lot, especially from people building their first magic deck. If I don’t have x card, can I still build y deck? The answer is YES! Of course you can! Let me show you how to use Magic: the Gathering Arena to help you find ways to tweak decks to your specific collection, or find the cards you need and craft them! I haven’t opened many Eldraine packs, so I don’t have any Gilded Goose cards at the moment. I can do a couple things in MtgArena to fix this.
The first step is to open up Magic: the Gathering Arena and click Decks, then click the ‘+’ to start building a new deck. Set your play style and the game will only show you cards of that play type. For this deck we want to choose Standard format so we only see cards relevant to the play style of the Food deck. The Gilded Goose card is a Creature – Bird type permanent that comes into the battlefield for a mana cost of one Forest Land. When you cast the Spell, the card creates a Food token. Starting on your next turn, you can also choose to use either of it’s tap abilities. You can pay one Forest Land plus one colorless Land to “create a Food token, or pay nothing in mana cost and sacrifice a Food token to “add a mana of any color” to cast Spell cards.
So, we can Search for other cards that interact with Food tokens. Maybe we’ll find something similar for a lesser rarity that we can substitute for the Gilded Goose cards. This deck calls for four of them, which is the maximum amount of copies we can have of any card in a Standard deck format. You could decide that two copies will do for now so you can pick up some of the other Rares in the set, and wait to open some Gilded Goose cards in digital booster packs. Click on the Advanced Filters icon to limit or expand your card search. For this search I want other Green cards I haven’t collected, and anything associated with Food tokens. You can also limit the rarity of your search cards if you’re not ready to spend those on Rare or Mythic Rare Wildcards yet.
When you’re ready, we’ll move on to Planeswalkers, Instants, and other Spell cards in How to Play Magic the Gathering: Baby’s First Magic Deck Part 2.