The Basics

Magic: The Gathering is the first collectible card game. Players select cards from their own collection, and combine them into a deck. When they play against another player, each person uses their own deck, only rarely even touching the other player's cards. The game has a basic set of rules, but each individual card has its own abilities, which are clearly stated on the card. And when the rules on the card contradict the rules as listed in a rule book, the card is given priority - allowing each card to change the game in a unique way. Cards are purchased similar to how sports cards are sold, in small packages of 8 or 15, known as booster packs.

Play is done turn by turn, with each player alternating. Each player starts with 20 life, and winning is accomplished by either reducing the other player to zero (or less) life, making them attempt to draw a card when there are no cards left for them to draw, or giving them 10 or more poison counters, which come from a few cards from a few sets.

Magic has been known by nicknames, such as "Tragic: The Addiction", and with pejorative terms such as "cardboard crack" due to the fact that many players have found the game quite addictive. While the exact reasons for the widespread addiction are unclear, there are two key features to the game that might contribute. First, the gambling nature of buying booster packs. Because the cards inside the packs are random, within certain rarity guidelines, players are encouraged to buy more cards to get the ones they want. Sometimes a highly prized card or two will come, giving the player a reward, and encouraging more buying. It's the exact same reward system gambling uses - a person keeps performing the same action because occasionally there is a reward, but not always, and not never. (It's so addictive, that when I wrote this writeup, I got the urge to play again - after not touching my cards for about three years and not missing it. Odds are I'll be in a shop playing by the end of the year.)

Also, the incredible variety in the game play surely hooks some players. Instead of a more traditional game, where the rules are clear and all the pieces known beforehand, Magic keeps players on their toes. You never know what the next card your opponent will play, so it is difficult to predict what you'll see. The game environment and strategy are always changing, keeping the game in a constant state of freshness. Also, it is very rare for there to ever be a best deck - there's almost always something that can beat it.

The game has also been highly influenced by the internet straight from it's start. In fact, it's one of the first games to be strongly affected by internet access - so much that there's a term, the dojo effect, used to describe any game that is changed from widespread and quick access to large amounts of information about a game on the internet.

Early History (beginning to Revised)

Sometime before 1991, a man by the name of Richard Garfield had approached another man, Peter Adkinson, about publishing a game for him. Peter operating a company out of his basement, called Wizards of the Coast, that had been publishing a few assorted roleplaying games. Richard had presented to Peter this interesting and complex board game, RoboRally. The publishing cost for a board game, especially one with the complexity of RoboRally, was beyond what Peter could afford. They talked, and Peter convinced Richard that he was interested in publishing games of his.

Richard Garfield later returned to Peter, with the prototype of another game he had been working on occasionally over the past few years. Richard was a professor of mathematics, with special skills in combinatorics and game theory, and had been applying this to a card game he had been working on, which he had been calling "The Five Magics". They test played this new game, and it was apparent to all the people playing that this was something special. So Peter decided to publish it for Richard. It was just what Peter was looking for. A very portable game, that people could play with a minimum of setup, and against other people on a moment's notice. A game that could remake itself, by having a large portion of the rules on the cards. The first collectible card game. The design played right into Garfield's interest in combinatorics, as the various combinations of cards, each with unique abilities, let to an explosion of possibilities.

Two full years were spent playtesting and developing the first version of the game - which had, in the process, been renamed to Magic: The Gathering. A number of game concepts changed during the playtesting. Cards were reworded over and over - one good example is the card Time Walk, which gives its caster a free turn. One playtester loved it, because playing it meant an instant win. When someone asked him about it, he pointed to the card text - "Opponent loses next turn." Needless to say, that was changed.

There were also cards that would change ownership of the cards in play. While the game was designed to be played for ante - where each player would put their top card into an ante pile before playing, there was a lot more. Control Magic, instead of just temporarily taking your opponent's creature for the game, would permanently take it. And a card called Ecoshift would require a player to collect all land in play, shuffle it, and deal the same number of lands back out to each player. These ideas were dropped before the final version.

In the meantime, Peter had managed to secure funding to do a first printing of the cards. 2.6 million cards were printed, which they expected to be approximately a six month supply, and they planned to do a total of approximately 10 million if the game sold well. After the printing, Peter, Richard, and a few other people travelled around the country doing demos of the game to drum up interest. Eventually they headed to GenCon, America's largest gaming convention.

News of the game had already spread around the internet, and people went looking for it. They still had the majority of the first 2.5 million cards when they arrived at the convention, and set up a small booth to demo the game and encourage play. Players took to it like crazy, and it wasn't long before the entire stock was sold - even the cards owned by some of Wizard of the Coast's workers were sold. All over the convention floor, the game was visible. People playing, trading, showing each other the new cards.

Realizing they had something big, they took the money they made selling the cards, and got the printing for the other 7.3 million going as quickly as they could. In the process, they made a few minor corrections to cards, added another version of the basic land cards with new artwork, and added a couple cards that were accidentally left out. While the cards were supposed to be indistinguishable from each other, that did not occur - the corners of the first run were substantially more rounded, making the two print runs different.

All of the first 10 million cards had black borders, and the first printing would come to be known as "Alpha", and the second as "Beta". The two together are also known as the "Limited Edition".

The rest of the 10 million cards continued to sell at incredible rates. They could not stick with their initial plan, to finish this printing, and create a new version of the game with new cards, when it was clear such a demand was forming. So they got another printing going, this time with white borders on the cards. This next printing would become known as the Unlimited Edition. Sales continued to grow faster than anyone could have expected.

As said, their initial plan would be to do a print run with a set of cards for a limited time, and then after a while, do a new print run, with a whole new collection of cards, that were also compatible with the original set. But with the Unlimited set continuing to sell in huge numbers, they scrapped the idea. They had been planning to create a new version of the game with the story of 1,001 Arabian Nights as the theme. Instead, they quickly put together the first "expansion set" - a set of cards with that theme, but unable to be played by itself, requiring the other cards. This expansion set stuck with the planned theme, and was given the name "Arabian Nights". It was released in December of 1993, sold just as well as the Unlimited set.

The expansion set idea stuck, and another one was quickly put into production. Unlike the generic themes of the main set, and the first expansion, it was decided to tell a story in the second expansion, known as Antiquities. The "flavor text" of the cards, little quotes and stories that don't afffect play but are added just to give the card and game personality, were all connected. They all talked about the war between a pair of brothers, Urza and Mishra, and the effects it had on the world of Magic. It made it into stores in March of 1994.

Some work went back into attempting to create a new "stand-alone" expansion set, one that could be played on it's own. The result of this was the next expansion, Legends. It ran to approximately the same size as the regular set, but during playtesting, it was found that the set did not have what was needed to survive without the rest of the cards. The plans to talk about playing it by itself were dropped, but the entirety of the set was released in June 1994.

Legends turned out to be both a success and a disaster. A large number of preorders was placed for the expansion before its release, and Wizards of the Coast decided to play it safe, and print to fill those preorders, but not any more. In the meantime, demand for Magic was increasing quickly, and more and more people were playing. By the time the cards arrived in the stores, preorders taken by those stores had just about covered the entire print run. In many stores, their entire stock of the expansion set was sold on the day it was released, in June of 1994. Others, realizing the growth in demand, took chances, and increased the prices beyond the regular retail prices. Some enterprising individuals purchased multiple boxes of booster packs, from stores, and soon afterwards, sold them for much more - and the speculator became rooted in Magic.

Right around this time, players found a suprising change. In an attempt to try and rebalance the game, and give players the chance to get a hold of some of the cards from the first two expansions that by now were long gone, the basic set, known as Unlimited, disappeared. It was soon replaced with a new version of the basic set, which would be called the "Revised Edition". Approximately 10% of the cards from Unlimited were no longer included in the set, whether due to being overpowered, underpowered, or just a random choice. Those cards were replaced with cards from the Arabian Nights and Antiquities sets. They also reworded cards here and there, to make them clearer. The biggest change in the wording was that cards that used to use the word tap were changed to have a tap symbol on them - at the time, a while circle with the letter "T" tilted to one side.

One major change that's been made since then has been the organization of expansion sets into "blocks". After the release of Ice Age, sets were released in groups of three - one large, stand-alone expansion, plus two smaller expansions, all part of the same storyline, and considered a block. Tournament play is sometimes restricted to cards of a certain block, and blocks are used to decide what sets are allowed in tournaments. They also tend to introduce new abilities in the stand-alone expansions, and continue using them throughout the rest of the block, dropping them afterwards.

The Storyline:

The basic storyline connecting all of the cards and sets in the Magic: The Gathering storyline is the multiverse of Dominia. Dominia consists of various "planes", or universes. Incredibly powerful wizards, known as planeswalkers, have discovered how to travel between these planes, how to summon creatures and forces from one of these planes to another, and how to tap into the magic of the land, known as "mana".

This mana comes in five "colors", with each color having a different purpose, a different place, in the scheme of things.

  • Black- Black is the color of death, of evil, of the swamps. Undead creatures are often black, and spells related to the night and to pain and suffering are black. Black spells often have the tendency to turn on their caster. Its natural opponents are green (life/death) and white (good/evil)

  • Blue - Blue is the color of water and air, and of magic itself. Creatures of the water and the air are blue, including creatures of those elements themselves. Spells that play with magic directly are also blue, such as ones that counter the casting of a spell. Its natural opponents are green (the natural/the ethereal) and red (fire/water)

  • Green - Green is the color of life, of nature. Animals, wildlife, and the forces of nature are all at the command of the green mage. Life and growth are also the realms of green. Its natural opponents are blue (the ethereal/the natural) and black (death/life)

  • Red - Red is the color of fire, of chaos. Creatures born of fire, and living in chaos will usually be red, such as orcs and dwarves. Red commands the forces of fire and lightning, able to send those forces to do damage to a target. Its natural opponents are blue (water/fire) and white (order/chaos).

  • White - White is the color of good, order, and healing. Things traditionally thought of as the realm of God and good are white, such as Angels. There are also a number of spells to heal damage and protect. Its natural opponents are red (chaos/order) and black (evil/good).

In this multiverse, a single world known as Dominaria plays host to the most powerful, and most well known of the planeswalkers. There were two continents on the planet, with one of them, Teirsaire, being the home to most of the wars and problems, but with a southern continent known as Sarpadia..

One of the biggest events in the history of Dominaria was The Brothers' War, the setting for the Antiquities expansion set. Urza and Mishra, a pair of brothers who had worked together studying and creating artifacts, when they stumbled across a stone from the ancient peoples known as the Thran. The stone split in two, each brother having the power of one, and suddenly desiring the power of both. Thus, the war started, as each wanted the other stone. Horrible machines were made, and the planet suffered from the ceaseless war.

After a great artifact, the Sylex was used in the war, debris and dust clouded the skies. The sun disappeared behind endless clouds, and the temperature started to drop. The suffering of the people gave power to an overzealous church, which started a holy backlash against magic-users. The few magic users that survived the onslaught of the church went underground, and they kept magic alive in Dominaria. This was the setting for The Dark.

Meanwhile on Sarpadia, the ever-increasing cold is putting pressure on various civilizations, and they begin to fight for food, for their survival. This is the setting for Fallen Empires. Dwarves and Orcs fight each other, as homarids in the seas start attacking the merfolk. Nature tries to drive off a fungus covering everything, and a dark order in the swamps is suffering as the slaves they bred are fighting back.

Finally, Dominaria enters an Ice Age. The lands become covered in snow and ice, and great cultures collapse. The remaining people struggle to survive, as nature slowly reclaims the planet.

Card Sets:

The Basic Sets:

Expansion Sets:

Portal:

Other Sets

Special Releases

Sources:
The History of Magic, http://www.angelfire.com/ga/eltsite/magichistory.html
The Crystal Keep, http://www.crystalkeep.com/magic/index.html
Magic: The Gathering Home Page, http://www.wizards.com

Magic: the Gathering is my all-time favorite card game, and one of the reasons I like WotC a lot (the other being the zap they brought to D&D to make it a non-sneerable-at, not-just-for-newbies,-you-know RPG... =)

I may write of the card game later, but others have covered it up pretty well. So, since everyone forgets one crucial product, I'll tell about it.


The computer game

Title: Magic: the Gathering
Developer: Microprose
Publisher: Microprose
Date Published: 1997
Platforms: Microsoft Windows

The game was developed by MicroProse and released in 1997, and it runs on Windows. MicroProse did the expected thing here - "Hey, Sid Meier touched this game, so it has to rule!"... actually Meier's touch in the game was only limited to the slightly (and unfoundedly, according to some) criticized Shandalar section.

The game was announced, then delayed, delayed, delayed, delayed and then released - but the good thing was that unlike some games that get delayed a lot, it didn't suck - even when it did have some small problems. I remember one interesting thing - Finnish computer game mag Pelit did a feature on M:tG card game in one issue, gave a contest to design M:tG cards (the results were funny and cool =) and if I remember correctly, said that they hoped they would do the review of the computer game soon. A long time later, the game was finally released. =)

The computer Magic is very much similar to the real card Magic. The game includes all cards in Fourth Edition and also some cards from other card sets, including some incredibly rare and useful cards. Yeah, you'll get all of the crap the supposed Gurus bought for gigantic heap of money and that were later somewhat toned down by new kickassery from Hasbro's marketing department, thank God. =) (In other words, this is your chance to see what the brouhaha around Black Lotus is all about - use it well, because it's unlikely you're going to see that one in casual play, let alone in your own deck =)

The game also includes a card set of its own called Astral set - some cards that have never been actually printed! If you look at the cards, you'll soon see the reason: Most of the abilities are too complex or random for casual games and as such only work on computer. For example, one of the green dragon cards had the ability "2GG: Play random effect." Do that, and zap, some random target gets some random spell effect. You can only imagine what sort of yelling that thing might generate around a normal playing table =)

The game has four major parts. There's a Tutorial that tells the newbies how to shoot and even smoke cardboard crack, thinly veiled with some appropriately magical cloak waving. (I only watched the beginning. I hope the rest of it is just as corny. I have to get drunk one day and watch the rest.) The Shandalar section where you, a guy fresh out of Hogwarts can adventure in the fantasy world and fight zillions of fantastic monsters and people with your deck, and hopefully collect some rare cards. And then the gem the whole program is worth getting for: Duel, where you can pick a deck and a deck for your opponent (or random deck for either or both if you desire some thrill), and do a pleasant little duel or a painful long gauntlet. Finally, there's a Deck builder for making new decks for games. They can be saved to file and e-mailed to people or put to web page if you feel like showing off.

The UI is plain, simple and logical, and everyone who has trivial knowledge of GUI operation and a couple of dozens games of regular card Magic behind is able to start playing immediately.

The game UI has some small problems, though: It's impossible to back down, and you aren't supposed to do things in "wrong order". For example, you shouldn't first tap lands and then cast the spell; first click on the card, then tap lands, and it gets cast, or double-click on the card and it tries to tap lands automagically. And, if you decide to cancel the casting while tapping X, it won't let you untap the lands you've already tapped. In the end, you're staring at the mana burn screen.

(I've been told there's a patch for this... Not sure where to get that these days, knowing that MicroProse is no more.)

Cards with titles in yellow are helpfully the cards that can be cast. The cards on the playing areas and hands are rectangles with picture and title, and get "expanded" to the frame on the left if you keep mouse pointerer over them for a second. The UI does waste a bit of space for the mana in mana pool (most of time it looks like mana symbols on one column and "0"s in different colors in another, wayyyy wider column.

All in all, if you forget the land tapping problem, the duel program works just wonderfully.

The deck builder ("Get yer Power Nine right here!!") is pretty good - you see the card on left, you can filter the available cards based on different criteria, and hey, soon you have a good deck. Or not.

One of the small complaints against the computerized version is the fact that there's no expansions - this was particularly annoying because I really wanted to play with Ice Age stuff when the game was finally out, and I couldn't create an exact replica of the deck I was playing with in real world. And, due to Microprose's disappearance, I doubt there ever will be expansions, and even if there was expansions, it's pretty hard to find them these days, or even information about their release.

The another complaint was that it was not possible to play online, or even in hot seat mode. Supposedly the multi-player support was coming, but I never saw it. (These days, they do have Magic Online, which is a separate and wholly unrelated program, and there has always been unofficial programs like Apprentice.)

There are several types of tournament environments sanctioned by the DCI in the game of Magic, and the environment you're playing in determines which cards are legal.

Constructed Formats
A constructed deck needs a minimum of sixty cards, with an optional fifteen-card sideboard. This is the commonly known version of Magic, where people build decks at home, then square off against each other. With the exception of basic lands, you may run no more than four of any given card.

Type II (also known as Standard): In this environment, you can use any card from the most recent base set (i.e. 8th, 9th), and the two most recent "blocks" of expansion sets. This is by far the most popular environment, mostly due to the fact that this format has the easiest cards to acquire and the large events that take place. This is the format that makes the money for Wizards of the Coast, so they run large events such as the Grand Prix and the Pro Tour, where professional players can make large sums of money.

Type I (also known as Classic or Vintage): In this environment, you can use any card ever printed in an expansion or base set, as well as many of the promotional cards. Notable exceptions are the ante cards and the entire Unglued expansion set, which was only a joke, anyways. Type I is notorious for first-turn kills, although they are a lot rarer than most people think. Those are just the very memorable games. This environment contains a lot of the broken cards such as the Black Lotus, an artifact that comes out for free and gives you three extra mana, allowing for explosive starts. There are only so many of these older cards to go around, though, so they tend to fetch rather large prices on E-Bay. Some of the more powerful cards are "restricted", which means that you may only run one of them in a deck.

Type 1.5 (also known as Classic Restricted): A good idea, but not played anywhere near as much as Type I. Type 1.5 is Type I, but all of the cards that are restricted in Type I are just outright banned, instead. It's a slower, lower-power format toted as the solution to the "overpowered" Type I environment that just never really caught on. The DCI recenty remodeled 1.5 into its own format, with its own banned list. All of the fast combos have been banned, leaving what's shaping up to be a very healthy-looking format. They also seem to be throwing more support behind it.

Type 1.X (also known as Extended): Extended lets you use any card from 6th Edition or newer, as far as base sets go, and from any expansion from Tempest on. Extended lets you use any card set from 7th Edition or newer, and from the expansion set Invasion or newer. The extended field is quite a bit larger than the Type I field, but nowhere near as large as the Type II field. Type II decks tend to become Type 1.X decks as their cards rotate out of the Type II format.

Block Constructed: Everyone decides on a block to use, then builds a deck using only cards from that block. A variation of this called BYOB lets you create your own block, using the first set from one block, the second set from another, and the third set from a final block.

Limited Formats
These formats allow you to use forty-card decks, but you build your deck at the event, using only cards you receive as part of the tournament.

Sealed: Everyone gets a seventy-five-card tournament pack from the first expansion of the block, consisting of thirty basic lands (six of each color) and forty-five other cards, as well as two fifteen-card booster packs. If there's only one expansion in the current block, both booster packs are that expansion. If there are two expansions, then both boosters are the second expansion. If there are three expansions, then the booster packs consist of the second and third expansion. Once you've opened your cards, you build a deck of at least forty cards. Everything you don't use is your sideboard.

Draft: Drafts usually take eight people. Unofficial drafts can be run with fewer. Everyone gets three booster packs. There are various kinds of drafts, but here's an example of one: Everyone takes their first pack and opens it. They look through it, decide which card they want, then pass the remaining cards to their left and repeat until no cards are left. Then, they open their second pack and repeat, but going to the right. Finally, the third pack is opened, and passed to the left. People can grab as many basic lands as they want, and then they build a forty-card deck that they use to compete, with the leftover cards forming the sideboard.

Terms:
Sideboard: An optional fifteen cards that are included with your deck. During the first game of a match, you must use your original deck, but before the second (or third or fourth) game of the match, you may switch cards in your sideboard for cards in your deck on a one-to-one basis. This allows you to include some cards that allow you to deal with troublesome decks without getting stuck with useless cards in other match-ups.
Block: Magic expansion sets are grouped into sets of three. The two most recent blocks are the Odyssey block, consisting of Odyssey, Torment, and Judgement, and the Onslaught block, consisting of Onslaught, Legions, and a set that has not been released yet.
Ante cards: Cards that involve "anteing" a card from your deck, as sort of a forced trading.
DCI: Duelist's Convocation International, the governing body of tournament play in the game of Magic: the Gathering.

Current banned/restricted lists are available at: http://www.crystalkeep.com/magic/rules/tournament.html

I find it odd that, although there is certainly information about M:tG in this node, none of it really explains how the game works, or, more specifically, how to play it.
A lot of the real fun in the game comes from the fact that it requires thinking, and strategy, to play well. There's not a lot of "Look at all my rare, expensive cards as I use them to bash your pathetic human face in" going on, here. In fact, some very nice decks can and have been built using nothing but common and uncommon cards. This makes the whole game dependent less on physical resources (although you'll still need some to get the cards in the first place) and more on mental resources, which is rather nice. So you could theoretically have a deck worth hundreds and still lose if you act like a dipshit.

Magic is great because there's no real set form that you have to have your deck follow to win. That means that you can, in a way, make a deck that follows your playing style (eg; smash face with creatures, eat face with spells, explode face with enchantments) and still be a formidable opponent. Most cards can also be used in combination with other cards to become more effective, although this can be difficult to set up, especially if your opponent knows what you're trying and is trying to stop you.

But some of this makes no sense if you don't know how the cards are set up, so here's where you learn how to play Magic.

BEFORE YOU START
First of all, in order to play, you're going to need a deck and an opponent. I can't help you with the second, but the first is no problem.
Decks need to be at least 60 cards, and for the most part probably should stay at the minimum. One of the things most new players do is take all of their good stuff, and put it into a deck. It doesn't work. Instead, decks should have cards that work together to help you win. Use Crucible of Worlds and Armegeddon to destroy everyone's lands, and then play yours from the graveyard while your opponent struggles to play anything new. Bring out a legion of soldiers and beef them up with Daru Warchiefs. However, keep in mind that you can have a maximum of only 4 of each differently named card in your deck, barring basic lands. There are a few cards that are restriced or banned in certain formats, but it's pretty unlikely you'll come across them if you're just starting out.

It's also important to have ways of dealing with problems you may face in the game. Pack a few Disenchants if the deck is weak against enchantments, or Terrors if you get too overrun by creatures. Of course you can't think of every possible way your opponents may hurt you, but you can stop the more common problems with a little bit of work.

If you're interested in tournament play, you may want to put in a 15 card sideboard as well. Then fill that up with a variety of cards that can shut down decks, and use those if you think you need them. (A sideboard is 15 supplemental cards in the deck that you can swap for other cards at the beginning of the second+ round of a game)

Cards will all be set up in a certain format; they all have a name, mana cost, card type, set symbol/rarity, and card text. Creatures will also have power and toughness noted at the bottom right corner of the card, and some cards also have flavor text, which is just a quote or witty sentence that somehow relates to the card. The mana cost will always follow a specific format; colorless cost, then colored cost. I believe the colors are also shown in a certain order, but that's more trivia than important game factoid. So, a card with a 2 then two little red fireball symbols would cost two colorless and two red mana. Colorless mana is really just a way of saying 'you can pay for this part of the cost with any color mana', while you can only pay the colored mana cost with the respective colored mana.

Card type is important, so much so that I'm giving it its own section a little bit below of this spiel. There are 10 card types: Land, Creature, Artifact, Enchantment, Enchant {Permanent, Land, Creature, Artifact, Enchantment, Equipment, or World}, Instant, and Sorcery, as well as the now-defunct Interrupt (consider these instants).

The Set Symbol is not usually that important in the game, barring a few cards from older sets and a few more from Unhinged, but it is important for tournament play. Most of the time you'll need your cards to be from either the last few blocks, the latest set, or occasionally from only the older sets. However, as long as a card is in one of the newer sets, you can use a copy of it from an older set. So you can use a Fireball from Beta, the second oldest set, in a Type 2, because Fireball was remade in newer sets. It's also important to note that the Set Symbol also contains information on the card's rarity. If the symbol is filled in black, the card is common; silver is uncommon, and gold is rare. Unfortunately this is only true for sets released after Exodus. Of course, Exodus was released in 1998, so the cards you can buy now are probably going to have this feature.

The card's text is obviously the most important part of the card, owing to the fact that it's where the card tells you what it actually does. WoTC has done a decent job of keeping this relatively easy to understand, but older cards get more and more unintelligible as you go back. Unfortunately, card text takes precedence over rules, and just about every basic rule of the game has at some point been broken by a card, and this can cause some confusion among newer players. As a rule of thumb, just remember to do what the cards say. And if two cards clash, use your sense of logic or flip a coin. Hell, it's only a game. It's easier to explain how the card text works in individual card types than it is as a whole, though, so here we go!


TYPES OF CARDS


PERMANENTS

Abilities

Cumulative Upkeep: X
No longer used. (Basically, this ability wasn't printed on cards from the next blocks after its debut) (Thanks, Master Villain)
X in this case is some sort of cost. At the beginning of your upkeep, you put a time counter on the permanent, and then pay the cost once for each time counter on it. If you can't or won't pay the cost, then you sacrifice the permanent.

Phasing
No longer used.
A permanent with Phasing will phase out (be removed from play and put into the phased-out zone) during it's owner's untap phase. All permanents with phasing that are phased out are returned to play at the same time. So, they hop in and out of existence.
Enchantments and Equipment will stay on whatever phases out, so they phase out too. If only the Enchantment or Equipment phases out, it will return to play on the same creature.
Anything that phases out will keep its tokens and counters.

Cycling X
Maybe no longer used.
Cycling can appear on basically any card, including both permanents and nonpermanents.
You can use a card's Cycling ability only if that card is in your hand. To use it, pay the X cost and discard that card from your hand. Then draw a card.
Many cards from the Onslaught block will have additional text that looks something like 'when you cycle (this), you may...". So, when you cycle the card, you may do the additional ability.
There's also a Landcycling offshoot. A card with (Land)cycling makes you search your deck for a (Land) and shuffle instead of drawing a card. Otherwise, it works the same way.
Cycling appeared in the Urza's block and the Onslaught block. Since it reappeared, I'm not sure if it will again, so it's only maybe no longer used.

Echo
No longer used.
On your next upkeep after you play a permanent with Echo, you have to pay its mana cost again or sacrifice it. Once you do, you don't have to pay the cost again.

Fading X
No longer used.
The permanent comes into play with X fade counters on it. At the beginning of your upkeep, you have to remove a fade counter. If the permanent doesn't have any, you sacrifice it.

Kicker X
No longer used.
When you play the permanent or spell, you can also pay the kicker cost. If you do, some added ability will take effect. This ability will be listed on the card, and varies from card to card. Some kickers are very good. Some are very, very bad.

Threshold - X
No longer used.
When you have 7 or more cards in your graveyard, you have threshold. Then, the X on the card will take effect. So a card with Threshold - You win the game. will make you win the game when you have 7 or more cards in your graveyard.

Madness X
No longer used.
When you have to discard a card with Madness from your hand, you may pay the X cost and play it instead. Generally, the Madness cost will be less than the card's normal cost. This was fun to use when you had cards that could make you discard things from your hand.

Affinity for (thing)
No longer used.
Affinity decreases the colorless mana cost for a spell by 1 for each permanent of the type (thing) that you control. It doesn't get rid of the colored mana cost, and it doesn't reduce the colorless cost below zero.
Generally Affinity will be for artifacts. So playing a Broodstar (it costs 8 colorless and 2 blue mana) when you control 7 artifacts would reduce the cost to 3 colorless and 2 blue mana.

Equip X
Equip is only seen on artifacts, so far.
Equipment will also have additional text that looks something like 'Equipped creature gets/gains...'. To equip the equipment, you pay the X cost. You can only equip stuff when you can play a sorcery (unless the card has text like 'BB: Attach this card to target creature'; then it works as an instant).

Imprint
No longer used.
To imprint a card, you remove it from the game. Cards with Imprint are pretty varied, so you have to follow what the card tells you to do. Some cards imprint from your hand, some cards remove from graveyards, and some cards remove stuff from play. The cards will also have text that describes what the imprinted card does when it's imprinted.

Sunburst
No longer used.
Sunburst works differently on creatures and other permanents. When you play the permanent, you put X +1/+1 counters/charge counters on your creature/permanent for each color of mana you used to play it. So if you use one red and two black mana to play something with Sunburst, it will get 2 counters of whatever type.

Types of Permanents
Lands
Lands are the base of any deck. These are what you use to play spells. Think of these as your power source. Without them, you're most likely boned. Not that it's impossible to make a deck that has no mana; it's just very difficult and probably not worth your while.

There are two types of lands; basic and nonbasic. Basic lands are easy to obtain; you get something like 6 of each in each tournament pack you buy. They come in 5 flavors; Plains, Forest, Swamp, Island, and Mountain. They tap for white, green, black, blue, and red mana, respectively. You'll be able to tell what's a basic land and what's not because the more recent basic lands have a big mana symbol in place of any card text. For older cards, it'll say that it adds one of a certain color of mana to your pool.

Nonbasic lands can do a variety of things. Some just tap for two kinds of mana (there's usually some sort of drawback, though), or maybe they tap for 1 colorless and can prevent one damage to something. The only reason there needs to be any distinction is that there's the previously mentioned limit on card duplicates, so while you can have a billion basic lands, you can only have up to four of each nonbasic land. Nonbasic lands are obtained the same way as any other card.

Creatures
Creatures are a pretty common thing to see, probably the second most common next to lands. Normally you'll need at least a few creatures, if only to stop your opponent's, because otherwise you will likely be hacked into tiny pieces fairly quickly. Pretty much every creature can attack and block, barring walls and a few other chaps. When a creature is first played, it will have something called 'summoning sickness', which means that the creature can't attack and can't use any abilities that it taps to activate. This doesn't include abilities that say 'Tap target x', just abilities with the tap symbol before them. Creatures all share one other common trait; some number for power and toughness. Power is how much damage the creature will deal when hitting a player or creature, and toughness is how much damage the creature can take before it dies. Power and toughness can be modified by a large number of spells and enchantments, so don't always expect your big angry monster to remain big and angry the entire game. All damage to a creature goes away at the end of every turn, so a creature with 2 toughness that is dealt only 1 damage per turn will never actually be killed. Generally power and toughness will range from 0-7, but there are some that reach higher numbers. Of course, most creatures will have some sort of ability or power that makes them more useful than the others; otherwise, creatures would just become a pissing match of 'my power and toughness are bigger, eat it', and that would be boring.

There are a very large amount of creature abilities that are actually given a term. For your viewing pleasure, here's a big list of all of them.
First Strike
Basically, when the creature is blocked or blocking another creature, it will deal damage first. So, if your creature is a 5/3 first strike and your opponent's creature is a 3/3, your creature will kill your opponent's before it is dealt damage, keeping it alive. If both creatures have first strike, they still deal damage at the same time, but before any other creatures in combat without it.

Flanking
No longer used.
Whenever your creature becomes blocked by a creature without flanking, the blocking creature gets -1/-1 until end of turn. This happens before damage is dealt, so this can be a lifesaving ability (or a creature-killing ability, if the blocking creature is a pansy).

Flying
A creature with flying can't be blocked by creatures without flying. A creature with flying can block a creature with or without flying. This should be fairly obvious.

Haste
Basically, this means that the creature doesn't come into play with summoning sickness, so it can attack and use tap-requiring abilities the turn it comes into play. Haste does nothing after that first turn.

{Land}walk
Your creature can't be blocked if your opponent has the basic land named in play. So a creature with Islandwalk can't be blocked if your opponent has an Island in play. Can be a useful ability, but is obviously useless if your opponent isn't playing with the right land.

Protection from {thing}
This is a little tricky. Thing in this case can be basically any card type or color, including creature subtypes like Soldier or Zombie.
A creature with Protection from Whatever cannot: be targeted by something that is a Whatever, can't be enchanted by something that is a Whatever, can't be equipped by something that is a Whatever, can't be dealt damage by something that is a Whaever, and can't be blocked by things that are Whatevers.
Being ambiguous sucks. So a creature with protection from white can't be targeted by anything white, or blocked by anything white, or be dealt damage by anything white. It can, however, be destroyed, removed from the game, given -X/-X, or have anything else done to it by something white. Of course, the spell doing these effects will have to work around the protection (in other words, it has to say something like 'all creatures...' and not 'target creature...'). If a creature gains protection from white, any white enchantments on it will just bounce off and go flying into the graveyard. Protection is a little complex, but it's not so bad once you understand what exactly it means.

Shadow
No longer used.
Kind of like flying. Creatures with shadow can only block and be blocked by creatures with shadow. They're in their own little world, so to speak. Creatures with shadow are tricky to work around, since it's most likely you won't have anything with shadow to block them with. But it's also an old ability, so you won't see it often anyways.

Trample
Trample is fun. A creature with Trample will basically mow over anything in its way, as long as it's powerful enough. Or, in more complex terms, if the creature can deal lethal damage to all creatures blocking it, the remaining damage can be distributed among the creatures and the defending player. So a 5/5 with trample that's blocked by a 1/2 will deal 2 damage to the blocker, and then the remaining 3 can go directly to the defending player (or to the already-doomed creature, if for some reason you want to do that instead). So big creatures with trample are scary and have to be dealt with by several creatures or they'll rampage over the puny insects and kill you anyways! It's also good to note that if your trampling creature is blocked by several creatures, you can still assign all of your damage to the one with the lowest toughness and have the rest go through to your opponent. Maximum face-smashing! (Thanks, andersa.)

Banding
No longer used.
Creatures with Banding can band with any other creatures with Banding to form a band while attacking. Bands can also include up to one creature without Banding. The creatures abilities aren't shared, and if any member of band is blocked, all of the members are blocked. However, you get to choose how all damage is dealt by your opponent's creature. This is a pretty fun way to keep your pals alive in combat, and can also be useful for toying with your opponent's head, since blocking a band will save you damage but lose you a creature. It's also worth noting that a defending creature with Banding can decide how all of the damage from the attackers it is blocking is dealt. So, if a creature with Banding blocks a band, then each player decides how their opponent's creatures will deal damage. However, the ability was worded badly and is kind of confusing, so it hasn't seen a lot of play. It probably doesn't help that nothing new has it, either.

Rampage: X
No longer used.
Back to the simpler abilities, now. Rampage means that the creature gets +X/+X for each creature blocking it beyond the first. So a creature with Rampage 2 would get +4/+4 if it was blocked by 3 creature.

Vigilance
This is the brand new shiny term for 'attacking does not cause (this) to tap.'
So, this creature does not tap when it attacks. It still can't attack when you first play it, but it can block after it attacks. This is a fairly useful ability.

Horsemanship
Definitely no longer used.
This little gem is only found in one set; Portal Three Kingdoms.
This is Flying with a different name, basically. Creatures with Horsemanship can block creatures with or without Horsemanship; creatures without Horsemanship cannot block creatures with Horsemanship.

Fear
A creature with Fear can only be blocked by black or artifact creatures. Simple enough.

Morph X
No longer used.
This one is a little complex. You can play a creature with Morph facedown for 3 mana. A facedown morph creature is considered an ability-less 2/2 colorless nameless setless creature-typeless creature.
Then, at any time, you can pay the X cost and flip the creature face-up, turning it into whatever it really is.
Some creatures have additional abilities like 'whenever (this) is turned face-up, give target creature +3/+3'. This can happen multiple times, if the creature is turned facedown again.
Once the creature is morphed up, you can't turn it back into a facedown creature by paying 3 mana again. There are other ways, of course, but that's not really important.

Amplify X
No longer used.
When you play the creature, you may reveal any number of creatures from your hand that share a creature type with the creature you've played. Then, X +1/+1 counters on the creature for each creature revealed. So, if you play a Soldier with Amplify 2 and reveal 3 creatures that are soldiers from your hand, you would put 6 +1/+1 counters on the creature you just played.

Double Strike
In combat, your creature will deal first strike damage, and then normal damage. So a 2/1 creature with Double Strike that's blocked by a 1/3 creature will deal 2 damage, and then another 2. The blocking creature will deal 1 damage after the first 2 damage, so both creatures will die.

Provoke
Possibly no longer used.
When your creature attacks, you may untap a defending opponent's creature and force it to block yours, if it can. You can Provoke a creature that cannot block, too, but it still won't block.
There haven't been any creatures with Provoke in the newest set, but Wizards said they might bring it back, so Provoke is possibly no longer used.

Modular X
No longer used.
When your creature comes into play, you put X +1/+1 counters on it. When your creature is put into the graveyard, you may distribute all of the +1/+1 counters that were on the creature to any number of other artifact creatures.

Bushido X
Inevitably no longer used.
When your creatures blocks or becomes blocked, it gets +X/+X. That's it.
This ability is inevitably no longer used because, although it will probably continue on for the rest of the Kamigawa block, it seems unlikely that it will move on into the next set.

Soulshift X
Inevitably no longer used.
When your creature is put into the graveyard from play, you may return a Spirit creature with a converted mana cost X (converted mana cost just turns each colored mana symbol to 1 colorless mana and adds up the numbers, so 1 red and 1 colorless is 2 for a converted mana cost) from your graveyard to your hand.
Technically the creature could return itself, but the always seems to be 1 less than the creature's converted mana cost. This is probably not a coincidence.

Defender
Your creature can't attack.


Enchantments
Enchantments are permanents that have give some sort of added effect or ablity to something. Enchantments come in two flavors: Enchantment and Enchant (Permanent type).
Enchantments usually give some sort of global effect to the game, like 'All white creatures gain +1/+1'. Others will give you an ability, like 'Pay 1 life: Prevent all combat damage that would be dealt to target creature this turn.'
Enchant (Permanent type)s are played directly on to something. They give some sort of modifier to the card they're enchanting, which can be good or bad depending on what the enchantment is.
Enchant Worlds are now dead, but are basically Enchantments. The catch is that there can be only one Enchant World in play at any time. If a new one is played, the old one is destroyed and put into the graveyard.
Enchantments aren't always crucial to every deck, so it's quite plausible to just leave them out. However, they can also be very effective and useful, so you have to use your best judgement when you're building your deck. Mental resources, remember?

Artifacts
Artifacts are permanents that cost only colorless mana. There are artifact creatures as well, which are just creatures that only cost colorless mana.
Artifacts generally have some sort of ability with some sort of cost. Then you pay the cost and the ability takes effect and something interesting happens. I would like to be more specific, but artifacts can really do anything. They deal damage, return stuff to people's hands, destroy things, create things, get torn into pieces and tossed at things, as well as all sorts of other stuff.
Artifacts are nice because you can include them in basically any kind of deck, because they're colorless and thus can be played with any sort of mana. Many of them don't lean towards any one kind of generic deck, either. They're probably the most versatile kind of permanent you can put into a deck.


NONPERMANENTS

Abilities

Buyback X
No longer used.
When you play the spell, you may pay an additional X colorless mana. If you do, you return the spell to your hand when its effects occur instead of putting it into your graveyard.

Flashback X
No longer used.
When the spell is in the graveyard, you can pay X to play it from your graveyard. When its effects occur, remove it from the game instead of putting it back into your graveyard.

Storm
No longer used.
When you play a spell with Storm, you put a copy of it on the stack for each other spell played that turn. Basically, this means the effect will be multiplied by the number of spells played total, including itself. You can have each copy have a different target, if you would like.

Entwine X
No longer used.
Spells with Entwine will always have two effects, and be worded like do X, or do Y. If you pay the Entwine cost, you instead do both X and Y.

Scry X
No longer used.
When you play the spell, you can look at the top X cards of your library. You can then rearrange them in any order, and put any of them at the bottom of your deck in any order.

Splice onto X Y
When you play a spell with a type X, you may pay Y, reveal this spell from your hand, and copy this spell's text box onto the other spell. The spell you originally played will be discarded after use, but the card you spliced onto it is returned to your hand.
So if you splice Tim (Punch your opponent in the face until he or she falls unconscious, Splice onto Arcane 2) onto a Desperate Ritual (Add 3 red mana to your mana pool), you will reveal Tim, pay 2, and then add 3 red mana to your mana pool and punch your opponent in the face until he or she falls unconscious. If your opponent counters the Desperate Ritual, then you will not be able to punch them in the face until they fall unconscious. Sorry.


ZONES
There are 6 'zones' in the game; library, hand, graveyard, in play, stack, and removed from game. A few older cards also use the ante zone and the phased-out zone, as well. And card not in one of these zones is considered to be outside the game.
Your library is just your deck. So if a card is in that big stack of cards, that's in the library zone.
In the same fashion, the cards you're holding on to are the cards in your hand; thus, they are in the hand zone.
Your graveyard is where your things go when they're killed or disenchanted or whatever. This is also where spells go when their effects go through or are countered. It's important to note that tokens are removed from the game instead of being put into the graveyard; if they are returned to your hand, they will be removed from the game also.
In play is self-explanatory. Anything that has been played is in play.
The stack is the order in which card effects happen, basically. When you first play a card, it goes on the stack. When it resolves (or is countered), it leaves the stack.
Cards are removed from the game for a variety of reasons, but generally cards will only be removed from the game by other cards.
There is also another zone called 'the absolutely-removed-from-the-freaking-game-forever zone'. This is only utilized by one card (AWOL, from the new joke set Unhinged). It will probably never be seen again.


TURN ORDER
At the begining of the game, both players sideboard whatever they choose into their deck, then shuffle their deck. Decide who goes first in whatever way seems best to you, but preferrably something random. Then, both players draw 7 cards. Under certain conditions, a player can mulligan (shuffle their hand into the deck and get new cards). Generally, there are two ways to decide how mulliganing works; either you can only mulligan if you have all land or no land in your hand (in which case you reveal your hand, redraw 7 cards and then can't mulligan again) or you can mulligan anytime (in which case you just redraw one less card, so 6 then 5 then 4 and so on if you repeatedly mulligan). If you're playing casually, it's fine to blend both, however. Each player starts the game at 20 life. Then, whoever goes first plays in this order!

Untap
The Untap phase is pretty simple and also pretty self-explanatory. You untap all of your permanents, unless something on a card says not to.
Of course, that doesn't make sense, really.
Basically, your stuff taps for a variety of reasons. When a card is tapped, you turn it sideways. Any abilities that the card has that require it to tap can no longer be used, and and tapped creature can't attack or block. So for the most part, you can't do anything with your tapped permanents. There are a few exceptions (namely, abilities that don't require the card to tap as a cost), but otherwise that's the case. So the Untap phase is important, because you need your stuff untapped in order to use it.
As previously mentioned, Phasing also happens here. I am not entirely sure why WoTC chose this phase for that purpose.

Upkeep
The Upkeep phase is really not anything on its own. In fact, it's completely empty on its own. However, there are many cards that say something to the effect of "during your upkeep...", or "at the beginning of your upkeep..." or whatever. Well, this is your upkeep, and it's right at the beginning of your turn. But this phase will probably just end up being skipped. Mostly.

Draw
Another simple step. You just draw a card. End of story.
'Draw a card' means 'take the top card of your library and put it in your hand', if you're confused. Nothing else to do here.

Precombat Main Phase
This is where a lot of the action in your turn is going to happen.
During this phase, you can play any kind of spell. You can only play one land per turn, but otherwise you can play any number of spells. Of course normal rules still apply (you can't play permanents in response to someone playing a spell, for example) but otherwise here is where you'll be building up your pile of stuff.

Combat Phase
The Combat Phase is divided up into several steps:
Beginning of combat
The only thing that can really happen here is someone playing an instant or using a permanent's ability. It should be noted that anyone can play instants or use abilities during any of the steps of this phase.

Declare attackers
In this step, the attacking player says which of his or her creatures are attacking, and then taps them if necessary.

Declare blockers
Now, the defending player chooses which creatures to block, and which creatures to block them.

Combat damage
Now the creatures are out, the battle lines are drawn, and it's time for blood to be spilled.
Both players declare how damage will be split up, if it is being split up (normally when a creature is blocked by two creatures). Then, damage is dealt.
First Strike damage is logically dealt first. Then, all normal damage is dealt simultaneously. This includes both damage to creatures and players. All creatures that have been dealt lethal damage die; all players dealt lethal damage lose.

End of combat
Combat ends. People pack up their stuff, collect their fallen, and retreat to their separate sides.

Postcombat Main Phase
This phase is remarkably like the Precombat Main Phase, only it instead happens after combat. Otherwise, the same rules apply.

End Phase
The End Phase is made up of two steps; end of turn and cleanup.
During the end of turn step, all abilities that happen at the end of a players turn are simultaneously activated. After this point, if a new ability would happen at the end of the active player's turn, it will instead happen on the next players end phase.
During the cleanup step, the active player discards cards down to their maximum hand size (7, by default). Then, all effects that last 'until end of turn' or 'this turn' end. Simultaneously, all damage is removed from all creatures.
Then, the turn ends and the next player in line begins their turn in the same order.
The game will end when one player wins or all of the players except for one lose. A player loses the game when he or she has 0 life, has to draw a card but has no deck, or has 10 poison counters (a dead concept; you accrue poison counters mostly by being hit by certain creatures that give them out). The only way to win the game is by a select few cards that will generally be worded something like "if X, then you win the game."


With any luck you have now mastered the basics of M:tG and can acquire some cards and play with fellow human being. If you don't want to buy cards, there are a few ways to play Magic online for free (Apprentice seems to be the most prominent). If you're brand new I would suggest you buy a preconstructed deck (not a tournament pack) and a few booster packs. Try running the precon a little bit, and then try to add some of the stuff you got in your boosters to it, and see how it works.
Generally the preconstructed decks are okay and are capable of winning against decent opponents. It might be good to study the precon's structure a little bit, because generally they're evened out nicely.
Of course, if you want to just make your own path, that can work just as well. My only advice is to come up with a theme, not a deck that has 50 rares that work well, because then your deck will suck and you will be publically mocked.
The rest is up to you.


Sources:
http://wizards.com/magic/comprules/MagicCompRules041001.doc
My own experience with the game

Classic - Star Match:

5 players, each with a different mono-colored deck. The first player to eliminate their "enemy" colors is the winner. “Draws” often occur, but only one player may be declared as the winner. Each player has two allies and two enemies, and may only have the combat phase with their enemies. Players sit in a strict seating arrangement where each player is in between two allies and across from two enemies. See color listing for example. Format is similar to the basics of a Free For All, with added stipulated rules. This is a format unknown to the majority of Magic players, but it is not new. I learned about it on (MTGO) Magic: The Gathering Online, where it doesn’t even have the format built to play it. For best success when playing with one or more new players to this format, I suggest using “regular decks” (not made for this format) that were constructed for multi-player free for all style. If all players construct a deck for this format, it will be just as successful. The core sets, 6th, 7th, and 8th edition, are the easiest source to build Classic - Star Match decks from.

    Enemy Color List:
  • White - black and red
  • Blue - red and green
  • Black - white and green
  • Red - white and blue
  • Green - black and blue

    Ally Color List:
  • White - green and blue
  • Blue - white and black
  • Black - blue and red
  • Red - black and green
  • Green - red and white

Restrictions:

Banned cards are:
Anything that outrightly destroys an enemy color, their possessions, or would be declared as “unfair” by the group. Specific card (from editions after the Invasion block) list that I suggest banning: Blasting Station, Cabal Coffers, Lightning Greeves, Boil, Choke, Flashfires, Sanctimony, Karma, Yawgmoth's Edict, Circle of Protections, Hibernation, Wrath of Marit Lage, Story Circle, Divining Top, all swords, and Skullclamp. Universal cards that do not hinder the ally/enemy format are allowed. See http://gatherer.wizards.com/default.asp?term=time_walk&fields=|name|rules|type&format=Allsets&color=All&output=summary&sort=name&first=1 for card listings or descriptions.

Often house rules can be a better judgement of what is allowed in this format. For instance, a white card like Eight and a Half Tails has a protection ability, and may be deemed unfair. Though both white's enemey colors could deal with that card easily, it is a 2/2 creature and could be directly damaged for 2 when white has no available mana. Another possibility is that blue can counter this card. Thus there are unlimited ways to play the format, depending on allowed cards.

    Artifacts and Abilities:
  • Played as desired by players (No artifacts, or unlimited), but often max number of non-land artifacts is eight. The idea behind this format is to win by using the abilities of your chosen color, artifacts can misuse the purpose of this format.
  • Abilities must be played from your color only. (Only exception is as Blue you can steal your opponents’s cards and use them however desired).
  • Mana attributed artifacts and artifact lands are allowed without counting towards max number of artifacts.
  • I’ve noticed that if every player plays with their creatures having protection from their two enemy colors, (land)walk, and fear, game play is not as fun. I would suggest a minimum of under eight creatures with these abilities per player.

Strategy:
White: Life gaining is a necessity. I stack four Glorious Anthems in the deck with multiple flying creatures for best winning scenarios. The most important idea White must understand is that All of White’s enchantments are basically indestructible because only White and green have disenchant or naturalize. I suggest going heavy in enchantments as a result. If red played a card such as Browbeat, my personal favorite, white should be the player who takes the damage and does not allow red to draw three cards. Any other examples where any player may choose to take damage to not allow a player to gain anything, should be taken white (If white’s enemies black or red are to gain). Personal opinion, White is 2nd easiest to play as in this format (2/5), with a win ratio 3rd highest (3/5). On the fun scale White is the 3rd most fun to play as (3/5)

Blue: Counter spells and gain control of target X are a necessity. Using cards that search other players libraries and play that chosen card is a good strategy. Blue almost always makes the first move, and should as well. Counter spells are cost effective and use a low amount of mana, often used early on in the game. Blue should attack red first, who has (DD) direct damage that will be the death of Blue. If red is destroyed Blue can then concentrate on killing green with very little interference. Blue should desire to have their white ally die first before black, but to win unconditionally has to lose both allies before killing the last opponent, this is very difficult for Blue. Personal opinion, Blue is the 5th easiest (hardest) to play as in this format (5/5), with a win ratio of 5th highest (lowest win ratio) (5/5). On the fun scale Blue is the most fun to play as (1/5).

Black: Creature destruction is a necessity, whether this is by Dark Banishing or Terror type cards, or by target creature gets -X/-X, Black has to win by having more creatures out and the more powerful of those creatures attacking their enemies. Black has little chance to keep an enchantment out with both white and green as enemies. Black usually has no preference in order of kill, but must take heed on white’s life gaining and green’s creatures. Personal opinion, Black is the 4th easiest to play in this format (4/5), with a win ratio of (2/5). On the fun scale Black is the fourth most fun to play as (4/5).

Optional Dilemma:
Black and Red are the devious colors, for added fun I suggest allowing these two colors to fight it out if they are remaining two colors. I mean, it is safe to assume, that the zombies wouldn’t want to share their glory with those goblins, that the dwarfs wouldn’t want to be victorious knowing that evil walked the earth! Added stipulation that I came up with is to allow a grace period of two turns of no combat phase following the destruction of third player. This is by all means my own creativity and imagination, it is not apart of the Class Star match’s originality.

Red: (DD) Direct Damage is a necessity. I play what I call the “ultimate deck” as red, which works in any format, against those stupid new artifact affinity decks, or anything else. In the deck there is a lot of (DD), but three key cards that I will list: Sulfuric Vortex, War Elemental, and Glacial Chasm. Best three card combination (allowed in most formats, and my unique idea) in my opinion. The Glacial Chasm is pushing the mono-colored idea though, but even without it the Sulfuric Vortex takes care of white’s life gain, and the War Elemental is pumped up enough to slaughter any player. Red has an intricate place in this format, unsure of whom to kill first. Blue will mess with Red first, but Red also has to keep an eye on white’s life gain. Red should play for a slow win, becoming aggressive early will lose the game surely. Abilities such as Haste probably won’t aid a win. Dragon decks are too slow, but I suggest having a couple of large creatures with flying (or some other non-blockable ability) to destroy opponents. Personal opinion, Red is the third easiest to play in this format (3/5), with a win ration of fourth highest (4/5). On the fun scale Red is the 2nd most fun to play as (2/5).

Green: Bigger the creatures, the better. Elves just don’t cut it in this format. Green is the most straightforward color, making sense to the human brain above all other colors. If it can’t walk on land, or doesn’t have legs, kill it. Green is always passive for some reason, never really getting involved in the major conflict of the game. It is a good color for new players, and constructing decks for this color is very easy. I have seen many different ideas as of how to use green to its best of abilities, all seemingly able to work just as equally well as any other. Personal opinion, Green is the easiest to play in this format (1/5), with the highest win ratio (1/5). On the fun scale Green is the 5th most fun to play as (5/5).

Disclaimer of color strategy:
If you noticed my personal opinion, the harder to play your role, the more fun it is. For optimum results in color strategy, swap colors after every game and get a feel for all aspects and sides of this format. The format color strategy is not perfect, needs to constantly updated and reformatted for each individual group, and banned card lists always will need revisions. If you have any strategy you would like to disagree with me, please msg me your concern. Also any banned cards that you think I should add to the format list, please msg me those as well.

Magic: The Gathering Using a Common Windows Application

     I am a Magic player. I wasn't playing that long, only about two years. It is the best card game out there in my opinion.

The drawback: It can get terribly expensive.

     You buy a pack of fifteen cards for about three dollars in hopes of getting cards that you need to build your deck. Or you spend about 100 dollars or more to buy a complete set, but you only get one of each card in the set. That leaves you to buy the other two or three copies of the card to make your deck. On top of that, the individual cards can cost a lot. Some are cheap, maybe ten or twenty cents. Others cost over 1,000 dollars!

Some people will spend a ridiculous amount of money for a good deck. I have friends who have paid over 100 dollars or more for a single deck.

 

Fools.

 

     Being pretty good with computer programming does't make me smart, but it sure does save me money on Magic cards. Don't get me wrong, of course I still buy Magic cards and enjoy playing with others that don't have my program. But at the same rate, there is no way I'm going to spend huge chunks of my paycheck just to beat some fifteen year old kid in a game of Magic. I could play online, but then I might as well buy cards, since that can become increasingly expensive as well. Preposterous.

My solution: Create a program that simulates a Magic game.

The program: Microsoft Excel.

     That was not a typo. Normal, plain, sometimes boring Microsoft Excel. With some formulas and some VBA code, this program came to fruition. I will give a brief description along the lines of how it was done. I will not give all the details for a number of reasons, one being that it can't be legal. On the other hand, I am sure that the savvy Excel users can figure it out anyway.

The story: One day, while I was at work developing an Excel application, I happened to click and drag a picture into my spreadsheet on accident (I always have multiple windows open). One of my coworkers happened to be in my office and said, "if you did that with a lot of cards, I bet you could make a program to play Magic in Excel".

      I immediately took to the idea. We both compiled the cards that we wanted to use in a game. We needed a way to draw cards at random.

The formulas: =INDEX(C2:C80,RANDBETWEEN(1,(COUNTA(C2:C80)),1)

                     =COUNTA(OFFSET($A,0,0,COUNTA($A2:$A95),1))

The A and C columns contained card numbers and the name of the card, respectiveley. The formulas randomly selects a card. VBA code then deletes that card from the "deck", renumbers the cards, and its ready to go again with another click of the "Draw Card" button. The decks never have to be shuffled, since cards are randomly picked.

     The actual picture of the card then shows up in the respective player's "Hand" zone. Besides actually holding the cards, all of the mechanics of an actual Magic game is there. There are key stroke for tapping and untapping, and other more complicated aspects of the game like attaching equipment or enchantment cards to creatures. These more complicated aspects took some complicated code; and the first few bugs consisted of cards going into the correct hands and the correct creature coming into play. As for keeping each players hand concealed, we use my dual monitor setup and position the Excel page and the monitors such that each player cannot see the other's hand.

     This project took about a week. But now I have unlimited access to any Magic card I want. I can build limitless decks with any cards I want. All for free. Though, again, this can't be legal.

     The program works and looks great, but it does take a little away from actually playing the game. Some things you just can't do. For instance, some cards say "Each player plays with the top card of his deck revealed".  This can't be done because all cards are randomized with the drawing of a card. Also, removing an entire deck from the game is just not possible without blowing serious holes in the framework of the programming.

     But, even with its faults, its great for a quick game of Magic on our lunch break and an awesome testament to the power of Microsoft Excel. If anyone wants more information, you can contact me, but I won't give all the information on how it was done.

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