How to play Magic: The Gathering

Here's how to play Magic: The Gathering - the basic MTG rules you need to know to play your first game, and where to go to find it.

MTG artwork showing Strixhaven student mages arguing

So, you want to play Magic: The Gathering? We don’t blame you – it’s a fantastic game full of challenging choices, exciting moments, and endless variety. No two games of Magic ever play out quite the same way, and, whether you’re a fledgling player or a seasoned pro, there’s always something new to learn.

That said, Magic: The Gathering can be quite intimidating. There are many different versions of the game, so it’s not obvious where to begin, and the comprehensive MTG rulebook might as well be an astrophysics textbook.

I’s all too easy to assume you have to know how to build an MTG deck or the intricacies of the MTG Stack before getting started. The prospect of diving in can be so scary that some players will call it quits before they even get going.

Magic The Gathering artwork showing a tornado surrounding a mage

We think that’s a real shame, and to ensure it doesn’t happen to you, we’re going to start you out at the shallow end. In this MTG starter guide, we’ll give you everything you need to play your very first game of Magic: The Gathering. It’s super simple; all you’ll need is a friend, about $15 between you, and a spare half hour.

If you’d be more at home clicking cards on a screen than sliding them across a table (and want to get started with the world’s best card game for free), we’d recommend trying out MTG Arena. It’s a less social experience than paper Magic, but a super accessible entry point. Check out these MTG Arena codes to help kickstart your collection, and our MTG Arena decks guide to know how to spend your Wildcards.

Still here? Good! Let’s get straight on with:

How to play Magic: The Gathering

  1. Buy the MTG starter set 2022
  2. Play your first game
  3. Experiment, explore, and enjoy

Magic The Gathering artwork showing a female mage

Step 1: Buy the MTG starter kit 2022

Magic: The Gathering maker Wizards of the Coast has come up with many beginner products over the years, but by far the simplest one available now is the aptly named Magic: The Gathering Starter Kit.

There’s many reasons to make this your very first MTG purchase. First off is the cost: for a very reasonable $15, it gives you everything you need to play – ideal if you’re just looking to dip your toe into the hobby and find out if it’s right for you.

Secondly, this kit contains two well-balanced preconstructed decks, which lets you and a friend skip over the challenging deckbuilding stage and get right down to the gameplay. Many players eventually find devising new decks to be the most enjoyable part of Magic, but trying to build an MTG deck when you’ve never played a game is like trying to draw an elephant when you’ve heard but never seen one.

Finally, the decks within the Starter Kit cover two popular Magic: The Gathering playstyles. One deck tries to slow down the opponent with clever spellcasting until you’re in a winning position; the other is more aggressive, simply letting you throw big monsters at your enemy. Try them both, and you’ll have experienced a good sample of the breadth that MTG can offer. If one strikes your fancy, it can be a starting point that you can upgrade over time as you collect new cards.

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Step 2: Play your first MTG game

Now you’ve got two decks, the next thing to do is shuffle your cards and play. The MTG starter set contains a booklet with all the information you need to get going, but you can also find the basic rules online.

When you’re learning how to play MTG, the main thing to keep in mind is that it’s much easier than it looks. Honest! Magic: The Gathering has a lot of rules, and a lot of jargon, but only a tiny portion of the whole will be relevant to any given game. Just skim the starting rules, and it’ll be a doddle to muddle through your first match. All you really need to know are the MTG card types, how the different MTG phases work, and a few more basics, and then you’re off.

In a game of Magic, both players will take it in turns to play mystical spells and attack each other’s life total with an ever-growing army of fearsome creatures. Over the course of a game, you’ll both get access to more mana, which will allow you to play even bigger and better cards.

When one player attacks with their creatures, the other has the chance to block. As well as creatures, there are all sorts of cards that let you pull off tricks and traps. You can zap your opponent’s troops with bolts of lightning or grow a weedy squirrel to an enormous beast just as combat begins. You’ll keep at it like this – one player strikes, the other parries and ripostes – until eventually one of you is able to get an edge and reduce the other to zero life.

One of the things that makes Magic: The Gathering so much fun is its sheer unpredictability. You’ll never know quite what you’re up against, and there’s a special joy that comes from figuring out how you can use your cards to interact with your opponent’s, and overcome their strategy.

Do not worry if you’re uncertain about something during play – that’s normal. Very few players know every rule in Magic: The Gathering off the top of their head, and it all comes with experience.

Don’t have a buddy to hand? We know persuading a sceptical pal to embark in a brand new hobby can sometimes be tough, so don’t fret. You shouldn’t be afraid to head to the nearest Magic-friendly Local Game Store and rock up with your starter deck.

Different players are into Magic for different reasons. So, while it’s likely some people are only there to do battle with the best MTG Arena decks, you’ll usually be able to find someone who’s up for a more casual game. Results may vary – which is why we recommend you first figure out Magic with someone you know – but MTG players are usually extremely keen on helping newbies find their feet.

Magic The Gathering artwork showing the planeswalker Teferi

Step 3: Experiment, explore, and enjoy

Once you’ve mastered the decks in the MTG Starter Kit, the multiverse is your oyster. There are so many different paths you can take next; it just depends where your interests lie.

You might want to learn how to build an MTG Commander deck, for instance. A popular format often played in groups of four, Commander is one of the most sociable ways to play Magic. It’ll require a bit more of a monetary investment than you’ve put in so far, but on the plus side you’ll get to try out a version of Magic with more variety and ridiculous, bombastic moments than any other. Here are some of the best MTG commanders to try.

If you find you’re worried about getting crushed by more experienced players, we recommend the level playing field of the Jumpstart format. In Jumpstart, players open up two packs and bosh them together into a random deck. It’s not only a super quick and fun way to play Magic: The Gathering, Jumpstart will also give you a sense of the variety MTG has to offer and even give you a feel for deckbuilding, as you see how unexpected cards can work together.

We predict that before long you’ll have a towering stack of MTG cards in your collection. At that point, it’s handy to know how to build an MTG deck. And if you’ve got hold of some strong cards and want to up your game, here are some of the best MTG Standard decks to try out.

Either way, we hope we’ve filled you in to put you in a strong position for your first game of MTG – be it online or off.