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Magic: The Gathering
Magic: The Gathering card back
Magic: The Gathering's card back design
Designer Richard Garfield
Publisher Wizards of the Coast
Players 2 or more
Age range 13+
Setup time < 2 minutes[note 1]
Playing time ~ 25 minutes[note 2]
Random chance Some (order of cards drawn, various card abilities)
Skills required Card playing

Magic: The Gathering (colloquially Magic or MTG) is a collectible card game created by mathematics professor Richard Garfield and introduced in 1993 by Wizards of the Coast. Magic is the first example of the modern collectible card game genre and still thrives today, with an estimated six million players in over seventy countries.[1] Magic can be played by two or more players each using a deck of printed cards or a deck of virtual cards through the Internet-based Magic: The Gathering Online or third-party programs.

Each game represents a battle between powerful wizards, known as "planeswalkers", who use the magical spells, items, and fantastic creatures depicted on individual Magic cards to defeat their opponents. Although the original concept of the game drew heavily from the motifs of traditional Fantasy role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons, the gameplay of Magic bears little resemblance to pencil-and-paper adventure games, while having substantially more cards and more complex rules than many other card games.

An organized tournament system and a community of professional Magic players has developed, as has a secondary market for Magic cards. Magic cards can be valuable due to their rarity and utility in game play.


Richard Garfield, the creator of the game, was a professor at Whitman College in 1993. In his spare time he worked with local volunteer playtesters to help refine the game during the 1993 school year. Peter Adkison (then CEO of Wizards of the Coast games company) first met with Garfield to discuss Garfield's new game RoboRally. Adkison was enthusiastic about the game, but decided that Wizards of the Coast lacked the resources to produce it at that point. He did like Garfield's ideas and mentioned that he was looking for a portable game that could be played in the downtime that frequently occurs at gaming conventions. Garfield returned and presented the general outline of the concept of a Trading Card Game. Adkison immediately saw the potential of the game and agreed to produce it.[2] After two years of development Magic: The Gathering underwent a general release on 5 August 1993.[3]

While the game was simply called "Magic" through most of playtesting, when the game had to be officially named, a lawyer informed them that Magic was too generic to be trademarked. "Mana Clash" was instead chosen to be the name used in the first solicitation of the game. Everybody involved with the game still called it Magic, though. After further consultation with the lawyer it was decided to rename the game to Magic: The Gathering, thus making the name able to be trademarked.[4]

A patent was granted to Wizards of the Coast in 1997 for "a novel method of game play and game components that in one embodiment are in the form of trading cards" that includes claims covering games whose rules include many of Magic's elements in combination, including concepts such as changing orientation of a game component to indicate use (referred to in the Magic and Vampire: The Eternal Struggle rules as "tapping") and constructing a deck by selecting cards from a larger pool.[5] The patent has aroused criticism from some observers, who believe some of its claims to be invalid.[6] In 2003, the patent was an element of a larger legal dispute between Wizards of the Coast and Nintendo, regarding trade secrets related to Nintendo's Pokémon Trading Card Game. The legal action was settled out of court, and its terms were not disclosed.[7]

The success of the initial edition prompted a reissue later in 1993, along with expansions to the game. Arabian Nights was released as the first expansion in December 1993. New expansions and revisions of the base game ("Core Sets") have since been released on a regular basis, amounting to four releases a year.[note 3] While the essence of the game has always stayed the same, the rules of Magic have undergone three major revisions with the release of the Revised Edition in 1994, Classic Edition in 1999, and Magic 2010 in July 2009.[8] With the release of the Eighth Edition in 2003, Magic also received a major visual redesign.

In 1996, Wizards of the Coast established the "Pro Tour",[9] a circuit of tournaments where players can compete for sizable cash prizes over the course of a single weekend-long tournament. In 2009 the top prize at a single tournament was US$40,000.[10] Sanctioned through The DCI, the tournaments added an element of prestige to the game by virtue of the cash payouts and media coverage from within the community. As of 2009 Wizards of the Coast has given out more than $30,000,000 in prizes at various professional tournaments, including Pro Tours, Grand Prixs, and National championships.[11]

While unofficial methods of online play existed previously,[note 4] Magic Online ("MTGO" or "Modo"), an official online version of the game, was released in 2002. A new, updated version of Magic Online was released in April 2008.[12]


Magic was an immediate success for Wizards of the Coast. Early on they were even reluctant to advertise the game because they were unable to keep pace with existing demand.[13] Initially Magic attracted many Dungeons & Dragons players,[13] but the following included all types of other people as well.[14] The success of the game quickly led to the creation of similar games by other companies as well as Wizards of the Coast themselves. While TSR's Spellfire did not become very popular, Wizards of the Coast tried to follow up Magic's success with Jyhad (now called Vampire: The Eternal Struggle), a game about modern-day vampires. Other similar games included Trading Card Games based on Star Trek and Star Wars.[14]


  • 1994: Mensa Select Award winner[15]
  • 1994: Origins Awards for Best Fantasy or Science Fiction Board game of 1993 and Best Graphic Presentation of a Board game of 1993[16]
  • 1994: Origins Award for the Legends expansion as Best Game Accessory[15]
  • 1995: Italian Gaming Society Gioco dell'Anno award winner[15]
  • 1996: Super As d'Or award for "Best New Game Concept and Genre Introduced in France"[15]
  • 1997: InQuest Fan Award for Best CCG Expansion for the Weatherlight expansion[15]
  • 1998 Origins Award for the Urza's Saga expansion as Collectible Card Game Expansion of the Year[17]
  • 1999: Inducted alongside Richard Garfield into the Origins Hall of Fame[17]
  • 2003: Games Magazine selected Magic for its Games Hall of Fame[18]
  • 2005: Origins Award for the Ravnica: City of Guilds expansion as Collectible Card Game Expansion of the Year
  • 2009: Origins Award for the Shards of Alara expansion as Collectible Card Game Expansion of the Year[19]

In addition several individuals including Richard Garfield and Donato Giancola won personal awards for their contributions to Magic.[15]


Main article: Magic: The Gathering rules

In a game of Magic, two or more players are engaged in a battle as powerful wizards called "planeswalkers". A player starts the game with twenty "life points" and loses when he or she is reduced to zero or less. Players lose life when they are dealt "damage" by being attacked with summoned creatures or when spells or other cards cause them to lose life directly. Although reducing an opponent to zero life is the most common way of ending a game, a player also loses if he or she must draw from an empty deck (called the "library" during the game), or if they have acquired 10 "poison counters." In addition, some cards specify other ways to win or lose the game.[20]

Players begin the game with seven cards in hand.[21] The two basic card types in Magic are "spells" and "lands". Lands provide "mana", or magical energy, which is used as magical fuel when the player attempts to cast spells. Players may only play one land per turn. More powerful spells generally cost more mana, so as the game progresses and more mana becomes available, the quantity and relative power of the spells played tends to increase. Some spells also require the payment of additional resources, such as cards in play or life points. Spells come in several varieties: "sorceries" and "instants" have a single, one-time effect before they go to the "graveyard" (discard pile); "enchantments" and "artifacts" are "permanents" that remain in play after being cast to provide a lasting magical effect; "creature" spells summon monsters that can attack and damage an opponent. The set Lorwyn introduced the new "planeswalker" card type, which represent powerful allies who fight with their own magic abilities depending on their loyalty to the player who summoned them. Spells can be of more than one type.[22] For example, an "artifact creature" has all the benefits and drawbacks of being both an artifact and a creature.

Some spells have effects that override normal game rules. The "Golden Rules of Magic" state that "Whenever a card's text directly contradicts the rules, the card takes precedence."[23] This allows Wizards of the Coast great flexibility in creating cards, but can cause problems when attempting to reconcile a card with the rules (or two cards with each other). The Comprehensive Rules, a detailed rulebook,[24] exists to clarify these conflicts.

Deck construction[]

Each player needs a deck to play a game of Magic. Beginners often start with an initial "Intro Pack", which can then be modified using cards from "booster packs".[citation needed] In most tournament formats, decks are required to be a minimum of sixty cards, with no upper limit.[25] Players may use no more than four copies of any named card, with the exception of "basic lands", which act as a standard resource in Magic. Both these rules are loosened in "limited" tournament formats, where a small number of cards are opened for play from booster packs or tournament packs, with a minimum deck size of forty cards and no "four of" rule. Depending on the type of play, some cards have been "restricted" (the card is limited to a single copy per deck) or "banned" (the card is no longer legal for tournament play).[26] These limitations are usually for power reasons, but have been occasionally made because of gameplay mechanics.[27]

Deck building requires much strategy as players must choose among thousands of cards which they want to play. This requires players to evaluate the power of their cards, as well as the possible synergies between them, and their possible interactions with the cards they expect to play against (this "metagame" can vary in different locations or time periods).[28] The choice of cards is usually narrowed by the player deciding which colors they want to include in the deck. This decision is a key part of creating a deck. In general, reducing the number of colors used increases the statistical likelihood of drawing the lands needed to cast one's spells while a player utilizing more colors has access to a greater arsenal of cards.

Colors of Magic[]

Most spells come in one of five colors.[29] The colors can be seen on the back of the cards, in a pentagonal design, called the "Color Wheel" or "Pentagon of Colors". Clockwise from the top, they are: white, blue, black, red, and green, respectively abbreviated WUBRG (often pronounced "woo-berg" by players and designers).[note 5] To play a spell of a given color, at least one mana of that color is required. This mana is normally generated by a basic land: plains for white, island for blue, swamp for black, mountain for red, and forest for green. The balances and distinctions among the five colors form one of the defining aspects of the game. Each color has strengths and weaknesses based on the "style" of magic it represents.[30]

  • White is the color of order, equality, righteousness, healing, law, community, peace, absolutism/totalitarianism, and light, although not necessarily "good". White's strengths are a roster of small creatures that are strong collectively; protecting those creatures with enchantments; gaining life; preventing damage to creatures or players; imposing restrictions on players; reducing the capabilities of opposing creatures, and powerful spells that "equalize" the playing field by destroying all cards of a given type. White creatures are known for their "Protection" from various other colors or even types of card, rendering them nearly impervious to harm from those things. Numerous white creatures also have "First Strike", "Lifelink", and "Vigilance". White's weaknesses include a focus on creatures, its unwillingness to simply kill creatures outright (instead hobbling them with restrictions that can be undone), and the fact that many of its most powerful spells affect all players equally—including the casting player.
  • Blue is the color of intellect, reason, illusion, logic, knowledge, manipulation, and trickery, as well as the classical elements of air and water. Blue's cards are best at letting a player draw additional cards; permanently taking control of an opponent's cards; returning cards to their owner's hand; and countering spells, causing them to be discarded and the mana used to pay them wasted. Blue's creatures tend to be weaker than creatures of other colors, but commonly have abilities and traits which make them difficult to damage or block, particularly "Flying" and to a lesser extent "Shroud". Blue's weaknesses include having trouble permanently dealing with spells that have already been played, the reactive nature of most of its spells, and a small (and expensive) roster of creatures.
  • Black is the color of power, ambition, greed, death, corruption, selfishness, and amorality; it is not necessarily evil, though many of its cards refer directly and indirectly to this concept. Black cards are best at destroying creatures, forcing players to discard cards from their hand, making players lose life, and returning creatures from the dead. Furthermore, because Black seeks to win at all costs, it has limited access to many abilities or effects that are normally available only to one of the other colors; but these abilities often require large sacrifices of life totals, creatures, cards in hand, cards in library, and other difficult-to-replace resources. Black is known for having creatures with the ability "Intimidate", making them difficult to block. Lesser black abilities include "Deathtouch" and "Regeneration". Black's main weaknesses are an almost complete inability to deal with enchantments and artifacts, its tendency to hurt itself almost as badly as it hurts the opponent, and difficulties in removing other Black creatures.[31]
  • Red is the color of freedom, chaos, passion, creativity, impulse, fury, warfare, lightning, the classical element of fire, and the non-living geological aspects of the classical element earth.[32] Red's strengths include destroying opposing lands and artifacts, sacrificing permanent resources for temporary but great power, and playing spells that deal "direct damage" to creatures or players, usually via applications of fire. Red has a wide array of creatures, but with the exception of extremely powerful dragons, most are fast and weak, or with low toughness, rendering them easier to destroy. Some of Red's cards can turn against or hurt their owner in return for being more powerful for their cost. Red also shares the trickery theme with Blue and can temporarily steal opponents' creatures or divert spells, although generally not permanently. Many of Red's most famous creatures have the "Haste" trait, which lets them attack and use many abilities earlier. The ability to raise a creature's power temporarily is also common among Red's creatures. Red's weaknesses include its inability to destroy enchantments, the self-destructive nature of many of its spells, and the way in which it trades early-game speed at the cost of late-game staying power. Red also has the vast majority of cards that involve random chance.
  • Green is the color of life, instinct, nature, reality, evolution, ecology and interdependence. Green has a large number of creatures, which tend to be the largest in the game for their cost. Many of its spells make them stronger temporarily. It can also destroy "unnatural" artifacts and enchantments, increase a player's life total, get extra lands or other mana sources into play, and produce the other four colors of mana. Green creatures often have "Trample", an ability which lets them deal attack damage to an opponent if blocked by a weaker creature. Green's weaknesses include its difficulty destroying creatures directly; a distinct shortage of flying creatures (though some of its creatures have "Reach", making them able to block flying creatures); and a lack of strategic options other than its signature large creatures.

The colors adjacent to each other on the pentagon are "allied" and often have similar, complementary abilities. For example, Blue has a relatively large number of flying creatures, which it shares with White and Black, which are next to it. The two non-adjacent colors to a particular color are "enemy" colors, and are thematically opposed. For instance, Red tends to be very aggressive, while White and Blue are often more defensive in nature. The Research and Development (R&D) team at Wizards of the Coast seeks to balance power and abilities among the five colors by using the "Color Pie" to differentiate each.[33] This guideline lays out the capabilities, themes, and mechanics of each color and allows for every color to have its own distinct attributes and gameplay. The Color Pie is used to ensure new cards are thematically in the correct color and do not infringe on the territory of other colors.

  • Multi-color cards were introduced in the Legends set and typically use a gold frame to distinguish them from mono-color cards. These cards require mana from two or more different colors to be played and count as each of the colors used to play them. Multi-color cards tend to combine the philosophy and mechanics of all the colors used in the spell's cost. Multi-color cards tend to be proportionally more powerful compared to single-color or hybrid cards, as requiring multiple colors of mana makes them harder to cast. More recently, two-color "hybrid" cards were introduced in the Ravnica set, and appeared extensively throughout the Shadowmoor and Eventide sets. Hybrid cards are distinguished by a gradient frame with those two colors, and can be paid with either of the card's colors (as opposed to requiring both); for instance, a card with two hybrid-red/white icons can be cast using two red mana, two white mana, or one of each.
  • Colorless cards belong to no color, and most often appear in the form of Lands and Artifacts. Unlike the five colors, Colorless cards do not have a specific personality or style of play. Sometimes, colorless cards will imitate the mechanics of a particular color, though in a less-efficient manner than a similar colored card. Often colorless cards are linked to one or more colors via their abilities, through story references, or through flavor text on the cards themselves. With the Rise of the Eldrazi expansion, however, colorless cards that are neither artifacts nor lands have been introduced for the first time in larger quantities. These are mainly Eldrazi cards, massive creatures and spells to help cast the costly Eldrazi.

Luck vs. skill[]

Magic, like many other games, combines chance and skill. One frequent complaint about the game involves the notion that there is too much luck involved, especially concerning possessing too many or too few lands.[34] Early in the game especially, too many or too few lands could ruin a player's chance at victory without the player having made a mistake. This in-game statistical variance can be minimized by proper deck construction, as an appropriate land count can reduce mana problems. The standard land count in most 60-card decks ranges from 18 to 28, although the use of special spells or lands and the relative costs of the main spells within the deck can substantially increase or decrease the number of lands required. Other cards can minimize the player's dependence on mana.[35]

A "mulligan" rule was later introduced into the game, first informally in casual play and then in the official game rules. The modern "Paris mulligan" allows players to shuffle an unsatisfactory opening hand back into the deck at the start of the game, draw a new hand with one fewer card, and repeat until satisfied. In multiplayer, a player may take one mulligan without penalty, while subsequent mulligans will still cost one card.[36] The original mulligan allowed a player a single redraw of seven new cards if that player's initial hand contained seven or zero lands. A variation of this rule called a "forced mulligan" is still used in some casual play circles and in multiplayer formats on Magic Online, and allows a single "free" redraw of seven new cards if a player's initial hand contains seven, six, one or zero lands.[37]


The original set of rules prescribed that all games were to be played for ante. Each player would remove a card at random from the deck they wished to play with and the two cards would be set aside. At the end of the match, the winner would take and keep both cards.[38] Early sets included a few cards with rules designed to interact with this gambling aspect, allowing replacements of cards up for ante, adding more cards to the ante, or even permanently trading cards in play. The cards came with the instruction that they should be removed from the deck in a game that was not being played for ante.

The ante concept became controversial because many regions had restrictions on games of chance. The rule was later made optional because of these restrictions and because of players' reluctance to possibly lose a card that they owned.[39] The gambling rule is forbidden at sanctioned events and is now mostly a relic of the past, though it still sees occasional usage in friendly games as well as the "five color" format.[40] The last card to mention ante was printed in the 1995 expansion set Homelands.

Variant rules[]

Main article: Magic: The Gathering formats

While the primary method of Magic play is one-on-one using standard deck construction rules, there are many alternative formats for playing the game. The most popular alternatives describe ways of playing with more than two players (with teams or free-for-all) or change the rules about how decks can be built.

Possible benefits[]

According to an article in USA Today[41] playing Magic could possibly lead to benefits and help improve social skills of many of the players, especially those that are young. Because so many players that are attracted to the game are young in age, the parents of these younger players often feel that the game actually helps their children learn better social skills, as well as teach them how to more gracefully win, and lose. Parents of these children also go as far as to say that playing a game such as Magic has helped keep their children out of trouble, and not picking up bad habits, such as doing drugs and joining gangs. Also, until 2007, those that proved themselves good enough at the game could compete for scholarships.[42]

Organized play[]

File:Magic Players.jpg

Officially sanctioned Magic tournaments attract participants of all ages and are held around the world. These players in Rostock, Germany competed for an invitation to a professional tournament in Nagoya, Japan.

Main article: DCI (Wizards of the Coast)

Magic tournaments regularly occur in gaming stores and other venues. Larger tournaments with hundreds of competitors from around the globe sponsored by Wizards of the Coast are arranged many times every year, with substantial cash prizes for the top finishers.[10] A number of websites report on tournament news, give complete lists for the most currently popular decks, and feature articles on current issues of debate about the game. The DCI, which is owned and operated by Wizards of the Coast, is the organizing body for sanctioned Magic events. The two major categories of tournament play are "Constructed" and "Limited".


In "Constructed" tournaments, each player arrives with a pre-built deck, which must have a minimum of sixty cards and follow other deck construction rules. The deck may also have a fifteen card sideboard, which allows players to modify their deck: following the first game of each match, each player is permitted to replace any number of cards in his or her deck with an equal number of cards from his or her sideboard. The original deck configuration is restored before the start of the next match. Normally the first player to win two games is the winner of the match.[26]

Different formats of Constructed Magic exist, each allowing different cards. They include "Vintage", "Legacy", "Extended", "Standard", and "Block Constructed".[26] The DCI maintains a "Banned and Restricted List" for each format; players may not use banned cards at all, and restricted cards are limited to one copy per deck.[26] The DCI bans cards that it determines are damaging the health of a format; it seeks to use this remedy as infrequently as possible, and only a handful of cards have been banned in recent years. Currently, the only format with a Restricted List is Vintage.

Constructed is also the name of a rating category, more narrowly defined as to include only Block Constructed, Standard, and Extended tournaments.

  • Block Constructed formats are defined by the cycle of three sets of cards in a given block. For example, the Ravnica block format consists of Ravnica: City of Guilds, Guildpact, and Dissension. Only cards that were printed in one of the sets in the appropriate block can be used in these formats.[26]
  • Standard contains the current block, the last completed block, and the most recent core set (except in the intervening months between the core set release in summer and rotation in October, wherein the most recent core set and previous core set are both Standard legal). The Standard card pool undergoes a "rotation" each year in October. Currently the Standard card pool consists of the Zendikar block, the Magic 2011 core set, and the Scars of Mirrodin block.

Vintage and Legacy are considered "Eternal Constructed" formats because the card pool never rotates. This means that all the sets that are currently legal will continue to be legal and any new sets will automatically be included in the legal card pool.[26] The only banned cards in Vintage are cards using the "ante" mechanic and a few other cards that the DCI considers inappropriate for competitive Magic. Because of the expense in acquiring the scarce old cards to play competitive Vintage, many Vintage tournaments permit players to proxy a certain number of cards.[43]


In "Limited" tournaments players construct decks using some measure of sealed booster packs and basic land. The decks in Limited tournaments must be a minimum of forty cards, and all unused cards function as the sideboard. In contrast to "Constructed" tournaments, the player is not restricted to exchange cards on a one-for-one basis when sideboarding, so long as the player adheres to the forty card minimum. The rule that a player may use only four copies of any given card does not apply.[26]

In "Sealed Deck" tournaments, each player receives six booster packs (each containing 15 cards) from which to build his or her deck. They may then add as many basic lands of their choice to their deck, as needed.

In a "Booster Draft", several players (usually eight) are seated around a table and each player is given three booster packs. Each player opens a pack, selects a card from it, and passes the remaining cards to the next player. Each player then selects one of the remaining cards from the pack he or she just received, and passes the remaining cards again. This continues until all of the cards are depleted. Players pass left for the first and third packs, and right for the second. Players then build decks out of any of the cards that they selected during the drafting. Talking, signaling, and showing cards is forbidden during the drafting process.

File:Shadowmage infiltrator.jpg

By winning a yearly Invitational tournament, Jon Finkel won the right for this card to feature his design and likeness.

Tournament structure[]

The DCI maintains a set of rules for being able to sanction tournaments, as well as runs its own circuit. Some hobby shops offer "Gateway" tournaments as a "casual" entrance to structured play.[44] The same shops often offer "Friday Night Magic" tournaments as a stepstone to more competitive play.[45]

The DCI runs the Pro Tour as a series of major tournaments to attract interest. The right to compete in a Pro Tour has to be earned by either winning a Pro Tour Qualifier Tournament or being successful in a previous tournament on a similar level. A Pro Tour is usually structured into two days of individual competition played in the Swiss format. On the final day, the top eight players compete with each other in an elimination format to select the winner.[46]

At the end of the competition in a Pro Tour, a player is awarded Pro Points depending on their finishing place. If the player finishes high enough, they will also be awarded prize money.[46] Frequent winners of these events have made names for themselves in the Magic community, such as Gabriel Nassif, Kai Budde and Jon Finkel. As a promotional tool, the DCI launched the Hall of Fame in 2005 to honor selected players.[9]

At the end of the year the Magic World Championship is held. The World Championship functions like a Pro Tour, except that competitors have to present their skill in three different formats (usually Standard, booster draft and a second constructed format) rather than one. Another difference is that invitation to the World Championship can be gained not through Pro Tour Qualifiers, but via the national championship of a country. Most countries sends the top four players of the tournament as representatives, though nations with minor Magic playing communities may send just one player. There are also other means to be invited to the tournament. The World Championship also has a team-based competition, where the national teams compete with each other.[47]

At the beginning of the World Championship, new members are inducted into the Hall of Fame. The tournament also concludes the current season of tournament play and at the end of the event, the player who earned the most Pro Points during the year is awarded the title "Pro Player of the Year". The player who earned the most Pro Points and did not compete in any previous season is awarded the title "Rookie of the Year".[47]

Invitation to a Pro Tour, Pro Points and prize money can also be earned in lesser tournaments called Grand Prix that are open to the general public and are held more frequently throughout the year.[48] Grand Prix events are usually the largest Magic tournaments, sometimes drawing more than 1,000 players. The largest Magic tournament ever held was a Grand Prix held in Madrid in 2010.[49]

Product and marketing[]

Magic: The Gathering cards are produced in much the same way as normal playing cards. Each Magic card, approximately 63 x 88 mm in size (2 Template:Fraction by 3 Template:Fraction inches), has a face which displays the card's name and rules text as well as an illustration appropriate to the card's concept. 11,601 unique cards have been produced for the game as of June 2011,[50] many of them with variant editions, artwork, or layouts, and 600–1000 new ones are added each year. The first Magic cards were printed exclusively in English, but current sets are also printed in Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.[51]

The overwhelming majority of Magic cards are issued and marketed in the form of sets, of which there are currently two types, the Core Set and the themed expansion sets. Under Wizards of the Coast's current production and marketing scheme, a new set is released quarterly. Note, however, that the production plans discussed in this section are in regular flux. If recent history is a guide, the actual releases in a given year will differ from the template discussed below, at least in some particulars, more often than they will conform to it.

The Core Set, released annually in July as of 2009 (previously biennially), is the baseline Magic game. As of the current set, Magic 2011, 140 of the 249 cards in the Core Sets are reprints of previously introduced cards and 109 are newly created. Prior to the Magic 2010 set, core sets consisted almost entirely of reprinted existing cards. The next Core Set, Magic 2012, will be released around July 2011.

The expansion sets are released in a three-set block starting in October, typically with a large initial set (that gives its name to the block) and then two smaller follow-ups at three-month intervals. These sets consist almost exclusively of newly-designed cards. Contrasted with the wide-ranging Core Set, each expansion is thematically narrower and deeper in both storyline and design. Expansions also dedicate several cards to a handful of particular, often newly introduced, game mechanics which do not appear in other sets. For instance, recent expansion sets have included the Ally mechanic, which provides greater bonuses the more allies a player controls, and leveling up, which simulates creatures becoming more experienced and powerful as time passes. Expansion sets are released in a yearly three-set "block," starting with a large, ~250 card set in October which is followed by two small, ~150 card sets the following winter and spring. The follow-up sets typically continue the storyline established in the block's opening set and have related gameplay mechanics.

In addition to the quarterly set releases, Magic cards are released in other products as well, such as the recent Planechase and Archenemy spin-off games. These combine reprinted Magic cards with new, oversize cards with new functionality.

Magic cards are normally divided into four rarities, which can be differentiated by the color of the expansion symbol (in sets released after the Stronghold expansion; for cards released prior to Exodus, rarities must be checked against an external cardlist or database, as all expansion symbols were black). These rarities are Common (Black), Uncommon (Silver), Rare (Gold), and, starting in Shards of Alara in October 2008, Mythic Rare (Copper-Red). Basic lands are their own rarity and are colored black as Commons. Most new cards are purchased in the form of Booster Packs. A fifteen-card Booster Pack will typically contain one Rare, three Uncommons, ten Commons, and one Basic Land (this is a change starting with Shards of Alara; in previous sets there were typically eleven Commons and no Basic Land). On average, a Mythic Rare replaces one in eight Rare cards. There are also premium versions of every card with holographic foil, randomly inserted into some boosters, which replace about every seventieth card. Previously cards were also sold in Tournament Packs typically containing three Rares, ten Uncommons, thirty-two Commons, and thirty Basic Lands.[note 8] Tournament Packs were discontinued after Shards of Alara.

In 2003, starting with the Eighth Edition Core Set, the game went through its biggest visual change since its creation—a new card frame layout was developed to allow more rules text and larger art on the cards, while reducing the thick, colored border to a minimum.[52] The new frame design aimed to improve contrast and readability using black type instead of the previous white, a new font, and partitioned areas for the name, card type, and power and toughness.


Magic: The Gathering video games, comics, and books have been produced under licensing or directly by Wizards of the Coast. While comics and books have mostly been supplements to develop a background story for the game several video games have been produced which lean in varying degree on the original game. For the first computer games Wizards of the Coast had sold licenses to Acclaim and MicroProse roughly at the same time. While MicroProse's Magic: The Gathering received favorable reviews, Acclaim's Magic: The Gathering: BattleMage was mostly dismissed with negative reaction[53]

In Magic: The Gathering Online Wizards has released a computer version of the game themselves, that allows players to compete online against other players using the original Magic cards and rules. The latest computer implementation of Magic is Magic: The Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers developed by Stainless Games for the Playstation 3, as well as the Xbox 360. Duels of the Planeswalkers simplifies much of the gameplay to be more accessible to newer players but otherwise follows the standard Magic rules.[54] The game was the most-played Xbox Live title for two weeks after its release.[55] Duels of the Planeswalkers was also released for the PC in June 2010.


In 1998 PGI Limited created Havic: The Bothering, which was a parody of Magic: The Gathering. Wizards of the Coast, which owned the rights to Magic: The Gathering, took active steps to hinder the distribution of the game and successfully shut out PGI Limited from attending GenCon in July 1998.[56] In an unsuccessful attempt to circumvent copyright issues and the infringement of Richard Garfield’s patented trading card game foundations, two steps were taken. First of all each starter deck of Havic had printed on the back side, “This is a Parody.” The second step taken was to include on the bottom of the rule card, "Do not have each player: construct their own library of predetermined number of game components by examining and selecting [the] game components from [a] reservoir of game components or you may infringe on U.S. Patent No. 5,662,332 to Garfield."[57]

Secondary market[]

File:Black lotus.jpg

The Alpha version of the Black Lotus card (here, signed by the artist) is usually considered to be the most valuable non-promotional Magic card ever printed.[58]

There is an active secondary market in individual cards among players and game shops. Many physical and online stores also sell single cards or "playsets" of four of a card. Common cards rarely sell for more than a few cents and are usually sold in bulk. Uncommon cards and weak rares typically cost around US$1. The most expensive cards in Standard tournament play usually cost approximately $40–50. On rare occasions, some have sold for $60–100. Foil versions of rare and mythic rare cards are typically about twice as valuable as the regular versions.

A few of the oldest cards –from Alpha to Legends– are much more valuable than any card currently in print. The most expensive card which was in regular print (as opposed to being a promotional or special printing) is Black Lotus, with average prices as of 2009 above $700 and high-quality "graded" copies rising above $3,000 — in 2005, a "Pristine 10 grade" Beckett Grading Services graded Beta Black Lotus was bought by Darren Adams, owner of West Coast Sports Cards & Gaming Distributors in Federal Way, Washington, for a record $20,000.[59] A small number of cards of similar age, rarity, and playability —chiefly among them the other cards in the so-called "Power Nine"— routinely reach prices of several hundred dollars as well.

As new sets come out, older cards are occasionally reprinted. In 1995 Wizards of the Coast formulated an official reprint policy which established a "Reserve List" of cards that are unavailable to be printed again.[60] Note, however, that Magic Head Designer Mark Rosewater has indicated that the policy is now considered a mistake; nevertheless, they have also said that they will maintain the policy to ensure Wizards' promises are taken seriously, in an attempt to guarantee to collectors the value of many old cards.


Each card has an illustration to represent the flavor of the card, often reflecting the setting of the expansion for which it was designed. Much of Magic's early artwork was commissioned with little specific direction or concern for visual cohesion.[61] One infamous example was the printing of the creature Whippoorwill without the "flying" ability even though its art showed a bird in flight.[62] The art direction team later decided to impose a few constraints so that the artistic vision more closely aligned with the design and development of the cards. Each block of cards now has its own style guide with sketches and descriptions of the various races and places featured in the setting.[63]

A few early sets experimented with alternate art for cards. However, Wizards came to believe that this impeded easy recognition of a card and that having multiple versions caused confusion when identifying a card at a glance.[64] Consequently, alternate art is now only used sparingly and mostly for promotional cards.[note 9] When older cards are reprinted in new sets, however, Wizards of the Coast has guaranteed that they will be printed with new art to make them more collectible.[65]

Ever since 1995, the copyright on all artwork commissioned is transferred to Wizards of the Coast once a contract is signed. However, the artist is allowed to sell the original piece and printed reproductions of it, and for established and prolific Magic artists, this can be a lucrative source of revenue.

As Magic has expanded across the globe, its artwork has had to change for its international audience. Artwork has been edited or given alternate art to comply with the governmental standards. For example, the portrayal of skeletons and most undead in artwork is prohibited by the Chinese government.[66][67]

Demonic themes[]

File:Lord of the pit.jpg

Demonic imagery in card art.

For the first few years of its production, Magic: The Gathering featured a small number of cards with names or artwork with demonic or occultist themes. Their presence led to some criticism from religious groups, and in 1995 the company elected to remove such references from the game. This was done by means of selectively choosing not to reprint cards containing the words "demon" or "devil", as well as printing cards with new artwork to avoid the appearance of occultism. In 2002, believing that the depiction of demons was becoming less controversial and that the game had established itself sufficiently, Wizards of the Coast reversed this policy and resumed printing cards with "demon" in their names.[68]


Main article: Magic: The Gathering storylines

An intricate storyline underlies the cards released in each expansion and is shown in the art and flavor text of the cards, as well as in novels and anthologies published by Wizards of the Coast (and formerly by HarperPrism). Important storyline characters or objects often appear as cards in Magic sets, usually as "Legendary" creatures.

The expansion sets from Antiquities through Scourge (with the exception of Homelands) revolve around the plane of Dominaria and are a roughly chronological timeline of that plane's history (with the exception of the Urza's Saga block). Major recurring characters include Urza and his brother Mishra. The sets from Weatherlight through Apocalypse follow in particular the story of the crew of the Weatherlight, allies of Urza against Yawgmoth. Odyssey through Scourge are an unconnected storyline set 100 years later on the continent of Otaria, where multiple factions battle for control of the Mirari, a powerful magical artifact.

After Scourge, Magic ventured out of Dominaria into the new planes of Mirrodin, a metallic artificial plane watched over and ruled by an animated Mirari; Kamigawa, a Japanese-themed plane set in the time of a great war between spirits and mortals; and Ravnica, a completely urbanised plane headed by ten guilds, at a time when their pact is at a turning point. It then returned to Dominaria, in a devastated apocalyptic state, for the Time Spiral block, but left it again upon the block's conclusion. The focus of the following block lay on the Lorwyn plane, once depicted as a utopic heaven for all creatures and once as a dystopic place. The subsequent block was situated on Alara, a world split in five but later reunited. A recent block focuses on Zendikar, a world used as a prison to entrap a race of interplanar parasitic monsters called the Eldrazi.[69] The current set, which follows the Zendikar block, revisits the plane of Mirrodin in a set called Scars of Mirrodin.[70]

Hall of fame[]

Main article: Magic: The Gathering Hall of Fame


  1. Excluding deck construction
  2. Games may take much longer or shorter depending on a deck's play style and the number of players
  3. Until the release of Mirage in 1996 expansions were released on an irregular basis. Beginning in 2009 one revision of the core set and three expansions will be released every year.
  4. Notably, the Apprentice program. See Magic: The Gathering video games.
  5. "U" stands for "blue" because "B" denotes Black and "L" land; see Anatomy of a Magic Card
  6. Prior to July 15, 2010, Extended format was different in the fact that Extended was the past seven years were legal instead of four.
  7. Prior to March 1, 2008, Extended format rotation system was different and more complicated: three Magic blocks rotated out every three years.
  8. "Typically" is used due to a change in card distribution in Time Spiral which allows premium cards of any rarity to replace Common cards instead of cards of their own rarity. See Purple Reign for more information.
  9. A notable exception are Basic Land cards, but those are easily identifiable due to the oversized mana symbol in their text boxes.


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  29. An article on the consideration of "purple" for the set Planar Chaos is at The Color Purple.
  30. A series of articles written by Mark Rosewater describing each color in depth (as well as multicolor cards, artifact or colorless cards, and color-hybrid cards) can be found at the game's official site at The Great White Way, True Blue, In the Black, Seeing Red, It's Not Easy Being Green, Just the Artifacts, Ma'am, and Midas Touch.
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  32. Brady Dommermuth (2006-02-01). "Ask Wizards". Wizards of the Coast. Retrieved 2006-09-26. "The particular issue of red's connection to earth and stone has another aspect as well, though. Red has and will continue to have earth/stone-themed cards. But green wants to be connected to earth as well, in the soil sense. So red gives up a few of its 'earth' cards for green's sake." 
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  57. Havic: The Bothering Skool Daze by Peter L. Gray, Sist-Airs, Vinyl Vineshtein Cards, 60 Pages, Published 1998, 1st Edition, starter decks rule card printed by PGI Limited, 30 Shorhaven Rd., Norwalk, CT 06855, ISBN 0-9667005-0-3
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  59. Beckett Magic The Gathering Magazine, Issue 3, December 2005/January 2006, pg. 10, "Sold! $20,000!"
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Further reading[]

  • Baldwin & Waters (1998). The Art of Magic: A fantasy of world building and the art of the Rath Cycle. Renton, WA: Wizards of the Coast. ISBN 0-7869-1178-6. 
  • Flores, Michael J. (2006). Deckade - 10 Years of Decks, Thoughts and Theory. New York, NY: ISBN 0-9778395-0-8. 
  • Moursund, Beth (2002). The Complete Encyclopedia of Magic: The Gathering. New York, NY: Thunder's Mouth Press. ISBN 1-56025-443-2. 

External links[]

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