Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Magic Primer: The Seven Card Types

Alright so the biggest problem I have in describing all of this stuff is that some of these rules are really recursive. It's really hard to talk about stuff without stopping mid-paragraph and adding a bunch of addendums, which is mostly what I have been doing.  Hopefully now I can explain stuff in more detail. But just in case You're probably going to either want to reread Anatomy of a Turn or keep the following list in your head.

  • Untap
  • Upkeep
  • Draw
  • Main 1
  • Combat
  • Main 2
  • End/Cleanup

Anyway Magic the Gathering has seven card types and each card type has its own rules. You can tell what type of a card your dealing with because right below the picture it will say one of seven things all of which describe its card type.   The narley ones like land and creatures are going to get thier own posts. But before we get started let's recap something.

Permanents and Non-Permanents
When you cast a spell one of two things happens after it resolves from the stack. It either goes on the battlefield or goes into the graveyard. Card types that go from the stack to the battlefield are called permanents because they tend to stick around until something makes them not stick around.

Permanents: Creatures, Land, Enchantments, Artifacts, Planeswalkers
Non-permanents: Sorceries, Instants

Also while I'm at it what makes most permanents good is that they have abilities

Effects and Abilities
I am in perpetual Buffy speak. These are what make cards do stuff.  Abilities generally fall into one of three categories, activated, triggered, and static.

Activated abilities need to be activated before they go into effect, and generally require the player to pay some sort of cost normally tapping or mana.  For instance Llanowar Elves has an activated mana ability that requires it to tap as a cost.

Triggered abilities occur when some condition has been met by the game. As a result they almost always feature the words "at", "during" "if" "whenever" or "when". You know typical Boolean logic stuff.  And for an example let's go with Angel's Feather. Which gains it's controller (laterz) one life whenever a player casts a white spell.

Static abilities continuously change something about the game, normally a rule or card attribute. Activated and triggered abilities act almost like non-permanent spells, going on the stack and resolving. Static abilities don't. They're just always there doing what they do.  And for my example on this lets go with Glorious Anthem.

There are other types of ablities, like mana abilities and evasion ablities, but they all fit into these categories. Okay on to the main show.

Land (Permanent)
You know what I already talked about land. I give a quick recap. You can play one land per turn and land taps for mana the game's primary resource. Most lands don't let you do stuff by themselves but they are the wheel around which magic turns. Literally.

Creatures (Permanent)
Fully explaining creatures would mean fully explaining combat and I'm not doing that here. But here is the gist.

Each turn the player whose turn it is has an opportunity to attack the opposing player with their creatures. The opposing player can then choose to block the attacking creatures. The attacking creature then deals damage to either the player or the blocking creatures depending on whether or not blockers were declared.

Considering that most common path to victory is dropping your opponent down to zero life points creatures are often considered the most mana effiecnt path to victory. It is "in theory" (never gonna happen) possible for a one mana Suntail Hawk to win the game... in 20 turns... if nothing kills it... and the opponent has no blockers, which by the way would probably kill it since it has one toughness. Why do I love that card again? It's a hawk. With three legs. Three legs!

Anyway by contrast Lightning Bolt considered to be one of the best one mana instants of all time only deals three damage.

Enchantments (Permanent)
Enchantments stuff. I got nothing. The first rule of magic is that you do what the cards tell you. Other than that explaining enchantments is hard.  I guess I could tell you that you can only play them in your main phase but that goes for everything except instants. Here's Glorious Anthem again.

Artifacts (Permanent)
Artifacts are pretty much just like enchantments with two caveats. First off they're defining feature is that they are colorless.  They can be paid for with any color of mana.

The second is that artifacts can also be creatures on occasion. If under the card type section it says "artifact creature" the card is considered both. Let's kick it old school with Yotian Soldier.

By the way if you want a fantasy style Yeager go with Darksteel Colossus. Who digs giant robots?

Planeswalkers (Permanent)

Okay imagine that the players are wizards but you want to make creature cards that are also wizards. So you have to think up a being that can stand in for the players, who are suppose to be the most powerful agent on the field. Otherwise why is the giant dragon doing what you say?

But then you start telling a story. And well the movers and shakers of the universe aren't the players but beings as powerful as them. You get in the sticky situation of never being able to print them as cards.

An entire block was devoted to solving this problem.  The solution delivered in two ways depower these characters. A lot of old school planeswalkers, were demoted to normal so they could be printed as normal creatures.  And a lot of narrative energy was focused on explaining how new planeswalkers and older planeswalkers who have the abilities in the style of new planeswalkers were different from old ones and the players.  I probably should devote an entire post on them but here goes.

Planeswalkers come into play with a number of loyalty counters.  Each of their abilities affects how much loyalty they have to you as fellow planeswalker. When they have no more loyalty they book and go off to do their own thing. Just for the record planeswalker abilities are generally activated abilities.  Planeswalkers have a version of the legend rule. It's not the legend rule but it's close. There can be only one planeswalker of a given subtype on the field.

Subtypes, The Legend Rule and The Planeswalker Rule

And I was going to explain subtypes when going in detail about creatures. Okay creatures and planeswalkers have subtypes on creatures they're generally a race and class, like human warrior or elf archer.

I didn't count it in my original seven because the legend type mostly serves to modify the others. Let's go back to the story of Magic the Gathering. The narrative. You want to represent major characters in the game. And game play wonkiness could lead to their being two Barrin, Master Wizards around so the legend rule was created and later modified. Currently if there are ever more than one copy of a legend on the field both go to the graveyard.

The problem is that there are a few cards that represent the same guy after a major story turn.  So it's possible to have Kamahl fighting himself pre and post epiphany.  So when it came to designing planeswalkers they went a different route. Each planeswalker's subtype represents himself and if there are two planeswalkers of the same subtype they both go to the graveyard. Ajani Vengeant can't be around at the same time as Ajani Goldmane. Dude mellowed.

Sorceries (Non-permanent)
Sorceries as Non-permanents are one shot spells that do their thing and then go to the graveyard. Don't get me wrong some sorceries can create permanents, but in and of themselves they aren't. As usual they can only be cast during your main phase and now we come to the great exception. Let's go with a good ole Fireball.

Instants (Non-permanent)
Instants are the only spell type that can be cast outside of your main turn and can used anytime you have priority. Mainphase, Combat, other players turn... whenevz. And that makes them incredibly flexible. The general rule of thumb is that all things being equal an instant is better than it's sorcery equivalent.

Classic example Giant Growth.

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