How to Take Turns
The first thing to do at the start the game is to decide who goes
first. This is handled by rolling a die. The highest roller will start the
game first. Both players will then draw their opening hand of seven
cards to begin the game with.
There are several parts to each turn, which in Magic are called
“phases”. The phases are as follows:
1. Beginning Phase.
2. First Main Phase.
3. Combat Phase.
4. Second Main Phase.
5. Ending Phase.
Each phase is then broken up into smaller sub-categories as well.
The first part of every turn, the beginning phase, will basically
set the stage for everything that happens during the rest of the turn. If
you recall earlier, you briefly learned about how you tap cards (turn
them sideways) to show they have been used for the turn. The
beginning phase is broken down into three steps:
1. Untap previously tapped permanents.
3. Draw a New Card.
Step 1: Untap Previously Tapped Permanents
At the beginning of each of your turns, you will untap all
previously tapped permanents. This is important because it allows
your resources to be reused on subsequent turns. All lands tapped for
mana, creatures that survived combat, and artifacts with a tap cost in
their abilities will be affected here along with any other effects that
caused a permanent to be tapped.
Step 2: Upkeep
The second part of the beginning phase is called upkeep. Specific
cards will tell you if they require an action during your upkeep phase.
If none of your permanents have an upkeep cost, you don’t have to do
anything during this part of your turn. Your opponent has a chance to
case instant spells or activate abilities before your turn progresses.
Step 3: Draw a New Card.
Finally, your beginning phase will end as you draw a new card for
the turn. Drawing a card every turn keeps restocking your hand with
new spells and is mandatory. If you don’t have any cards left in your
library and you reach the draw step of your turn, you automatically
lose the game! At the end of your draw step, your opponent may react
by casting instant spells or activating abilities.
First Main Phase
The main phase will allow you to add to your resources
on the battlefield. It is during this phase that you are
allowed to play lands from your hand to give you access to
increased mana. Remember, you may only play one land
per turn. You can then use your lands to cast sorcery
spells, creatures, enchantments, artifacts, or
Planeswalkers. Your opponent may, of course, respond to
any spells you cast with their own instant speed spells or
Once creatures have been summoned to the battlefield and they
have been under your control for at least one turn (so they are
unaffected by summoning sickness), they can begin combat. The
combat phase can be very complicated and often is an integral part of
achieving victory, so it’s important to go over this phase in more detail.
First, here is a break down the timing of how combat works (you
will see this illustrated with a specific example soon). As with the
beginning phase, the combat phase is broken down into smaller steps.
1. Beginning of Combat – Both players may play instants
2. Declare Attackers – Decide which, if any, creatures that
you control you would like to attack your opponent with.
You show that creature is attacking by tapping it. Both
players may play instants and use abilities.
3 Declare Blockers – Your opponent decides which, if any,
of their untapped creatures they want to use to block
your attack. Again, both players may play instant spells
and use abilities.
4. Assign Damage – All creatures involved in combat assign
damage based on their power (the first number in the
lower-right of the card). This is the final opportunity for
all players to use instants and abilities during the combat
5. End of Combat – If a creature is dealt more damage than
it has toughness. It is removed from the battlefield and
placed in the graveyard. Make any changes necessary to
life totals and Planeswalker loyalty counters.
Now let’s put that together with a real-life example. Here is
the board state as you move to the beginning of the combat
In this example, the player controls two Forests and one
Mountain and has a Runeclaw Bear under their control that
was summoned during the last turn. The opponent controls
an Island and a Plains and has used those two lands to
summon a Stormfront Pegasus.
First, the player will declare an attack. As the attacking
player, he can only declare an attack against the opposing
player or any Planeswalkers she controls. He cannot attack a
specific creature. That means the decision to block or not
block rests entirely on the defending player.
Let’s look at both scenarios and see what would
happen. Since the player is on the attack, they will declare
their Runeclaw Bears as an attacker and show this by tapping the bears
Once the attack is declared, the opponent must choose
whether or not to block the bears. If she chooses not to block
and does not use any spells, the player’s bears will assign their
damage directly to her. Since Runeclaw Bears has a power of
two, the opponent’s life total will go down by two points, from
20 to 18.
If the opponent chooses to block, the creatures will deal
damage to each other. Both Stormfront Pegasus and
Runeclaw Bears have a power of two. When creatures
interact in combat, they each deal their damage (equal to
their power rating) to the other creature’s toughness (the
second number at the bottom-right of the card).
This means Runeclaw Bears will deal two points of damage to
the Stormfront Pegasus. Since the Pegasus has a toughness of
one, this will be enough to kill them and at the end of combat,
the Pegasus will go to the graveyard. However, Stormfront
Pegasus also has a power of two, which is enough to kill the
Runeclaw Bears, who have a toughness of two.
In Magic terms, this type of situation is called “trading”. By
blocking here, the defending player is sacrificing her creature
to in turn destroy the player’s (her opponent’s) creature. Both
will be destroyed leaving the battlefield empty until more
creatures are summoned. When two creatures deal damage
to each other this way, all damage is dealt at the same time.
Therefore, they are both destroyed simultaneously.
It is also important to understand that any carryover damage
does not go on to the player. Even though the player’s bears
do two points of damage and the Pegasus only has a
toughness of one, the extra one damage is lost, it doesn’t go
anywhere else. It is also worth note that damage does not
carry over after the turn is over. Ifa creature takes damage,
but is not killed, that damage is erased when the turn is over.
Revisiting the Stack
Earlier, when speaking about game zones, we
briefly touched on the concept of the stack. Now
it’s time to take a more in-depth look at the stack
and how it affects game play. Remember the battle
between Runeclaw Bears and Stormfront Pegasus?
This time, we will add some firepower.
If you look closely, you should immediately see the
difference in this battle. Now the opponent has added an
Island to their side of the battlefield and all of her lands are
now untapped. In a Magic duel, this is something you want to
watch out for. Untapped lands usually mean your opponent
has more options available to them.
The player is still attacking opponent with their Runeclaw
Bears. The opponent is going to choose her Stormfront
Pegasus to act as a blocker in order to not lose points from her
life total. This time, however, the player will play another
spell to try and keep their bears alive!
The spell chosen to be cast is called Giant Growth. It allows
the player to tap one Forest to give a creature they control
+3/+3 until end of their turn. Those pluses are applied to the
creature’s power and toughness, essentially upgrading the
bears from a 2/2 to a high-powered 5/5 until the end of the
Now, instead of trading with the opponent’s Pegasus, the
bears will be able to kill the flying nuisance and still live to
further threaten the opponent! Unfortunately, the extra
damage doesn’t carry over, but the player is still happier with
this situation than if they put their bears in the graveyard.
The way this plays in-game is that after the player declares
their attacker (Runeclaw Bears) and the opponent has chosen
her blocker (Stormfront Pegasus), the player then casts their
Giant Growth. When that happens, Giant Growth goes on the stack. That means before it resolves and the player’s creature actually gets the bonus, the opponent has a chance to react.
Let’s say they opponent decides to tap all of her lands and play a spell of her own: Cancel.
In this case, she can stop the player’s Giant Growth from
resolving and force both of their creatures to still trade. This is true
because spells resolve in a certain order: Last in, first out.
This means that the last spell cast is the first one to resolve.
In the above scenario, the opponents’ Cancel will resolve first,
which will stop the Giant Growth from ever happening. Let’s
take a look at a slightly more complex example of how to use
There is a lot happening here, so let’s examine the plays here and
the two possible results.
If the attacking player choose to play Giant Growth as
before, the opponent can then respond. In this case, she
tapped a mountain to play a Lightning Bolt. Lightning Bolt
deals three point of damage to a creature or player. If the
opponent targets the player’s bears with the bolt, it will take
three points of damage before their Giant Growth can take
Since Runeclaw Bears only has two points of toughness, these
three damages will destroy them and they will be placed in
the graveyard. When the player’s Giant Growth spell tries to
make them bigger, they will no longer be there to receive the
effect. The spell will therefore “fizzle” and also be placed in
the graveyard, and the player will be very sad, as the spell has
If you turn things around though, use of the stack can work
much better for the player. Let’s say that instead of blocking
the player’s bears, the opponent instead decides to just target
them with the Lightning Bolt in an attempt to save her
Pegasus for later combat. Now what happens when the player
plays their Giant Growth?
Well, because it was the last thing placed on the stack, it will
resolve first. That means that the bears will be 5/5 and more
than large enough to absorb the Lightning Bolt’s three
damage points and survive! Even better, since the opponent
chose not to block, all five power points will go against her life
total, knocking her down from 20 to 15!
As you can see, there are many decisions to be made during
each and every combat phase. It is a very dynamic part of the
game that will take lots of practice to master. Remember to
read each card carefully, as many times understanding how to
use your tools and the best time to use them will be the
difference between winning and losing.
Second Main Phase
When the smoke clears after combat, you will have a second
opportunity to reinforce your side of the battlefield. The
second main phase allows you another opportunity to play
your one land for the turn and any permanents you have
mana to pay for.
Since so much can happen in combat, most good players will advise you to play spells during your second main phase as
much as possible. A good rule of thumb is that unless it will
help you in combat, wait until the second main phase.
This is a good thing to lean early in your Magic career because
it helps promote the right kind of thinking. Playing this way
will limit the amount of information your opponent has about
what you have available to you in combat and can lead to
them making mistakes. Also, your needs may change based.
on what happens in combat, so you can play optimally if you
have more information at your disposal. Remember,
information is power!
Appropriately named, the end phase marks the end
of every turn. The end phase is your opponents’
last time to play instants or activate abilities before
they start their own turn. It is also when all “end of
turn” effects end (like the Giant Growth from
before) and all non-lethal damage is removed from
You will also need to check how many cards you have in your
hand. Unless stated by an effect on a card, your hand has a
maximum size of seven cards. If you have more than seven
cards in hand at the end of your turn, you must discard from
your hand until you are down to seven.
Once that is done, your turn is over. Play then passes to your
opponent who begins by untapping all of their permanents
and following the phases as outlined above. You will continue this way, taking turns until one player’s life total is reduced to
zero or one of you runs out of cards in your library. Then the
game is over and it’s time to reshuffle and play again!