The developers of Fifth Edition regonized that parts of the existing rules were far more complex than they needed to be. They removed several elements that were either confusing, counterintuitive, or a waste of time. They also added a couple of rules to eliminate some loopholes that were disliked and counter-intuitive. Finally, they introduced and expanded a few game terms. To avoid confusion for anyone who began playing Magic with the release of the Mirage standalone expansion, the Fifth Edition rules were included with Mirage starter decks. The Fifth Edition rules would became the official DCI rules on November 1, 1996 (when Mirage cards became legal for tournament play). Notice that this was well before the release of Fifth Edition.
- Combat damage: This was the term now used to refer to damage dealt during damage dealing. All cards that referred to "damage in combat," such as Fog and Gaseous Form, now referred to "combat damage."
- Generic mana: This term referred to mana required for casting costs, activation costs, etc. that does not need to be any specific color. For example, Disenchant was now said to cost one white and one generic mana.
- Landhome: "Landhome" described those creatures that depended on having a certain type of land in play to survive and attack. For example, Sea Serpent had "islandhome."
- Legendary: Artifacts and enchantments could now be "legendary." Creatures were still referred to as "legends."
- Protection: A creature could now have protection from anything, not just from colors.
- Global and Local Enchantments: Enchantments that were played on other permanents were referred to as "local" enchantments; those that were simply put into play were called "global" enchantments.
Play or draw
For several months, an optional rule had been in effect for DCI sanctioned tournaments stating that whichever player takes the first turn of the game skips his or her draw phase for that turrn. This rule became now part of the standard rules for Magic. The old rules for determining who played first now determined which player decided who would play first (and skip his or her draw phase).
The turn structure
- End of Turn: One of the counterintuitive elements of the Fourth Edition rules was that effects that happened "at end of turn" occurred before effects that lasted "until end of turn" wore off. In Fifth Edition, this procedure was corrected by moving "at end of turn' effects to the very end of the turn. Moving the resolution of such effects out of the End phase removed any need for that phase, so the developers collapsed that phase and Heal Creatures into a single phase called "Cleanup". Note that fast effects were illegal during Cleanup just as they were during Heal Creatures, so the last chance to play fast effects was now Discard (and before the player discarded down to seven).
- Beginning/End of Phase: Effects that occured at the beginning or end of a phase, including "at end of turn' effects, now followed the same rules as specialized effects. That is, the active player's effects must resolve before the opponent's effects, rather than the active player's deciding the order in which effects resolve.
Mana and the mana pool
- Mana Sources: "Mana sources" were a new category of abilities. They included the ability of lands to be tapped for mana and all abilities that provide mana as interrupts. For example, Llanowar Elves's ability is now considered a mana source, but the ability of Ice Cauldron is not. Mana sources may be used whenever desired and may not be interrupted; there is no gap between playing the ability and resolving it. For example, you can't Rust a Mox; only continuous effects can stop a mana source from producing mana.
- Mana Burn: Mana burn was reverted to loss of life, so it couldn't be prevented or redirected.
The list of costs that can appear on the left side of the colon in "cost: effect" was greatly expanded. For example, in older editions, only mana symbols and tap symbols could appear to the left side of the colon. Now anything could appear there, including paying life, sacrifices, tapping other permanents, and so on. For example, the text for Greed would now be " , Pay 2 life: Draw a card."
- Doubling Up: Under Fourth Edition rules, if a permanent was given an ability it already had, the repetition of the ability would be ignored. Under Fifth Edition rules, if a permanent is given an ability more than once, it gets that ability again, though this may prove to be redundant. For example, giving a creature flying again is possible but not very interesting. But if a creature is enchanted with two Farrel's Mantles, it may use each Mantle's ability if unblocked.
- Interrupts that Target Castings: Interrupts that are played during the casting of a spell or effect were now played in batches, just as instants were, with the caster of the spell having priority in beginning or adding to a batch of interrupts. Such interrupts could only target the casting they interrupted and could not target "down the chain."
- Other Interrupts: Interrupts that target nothing or that target something other than a casting were now played as mana sources if they only provide mana, or as instants. Interrupts that could target a casting or target something else (e.g. Hydroblast) were played as instants if they were not targeting a casting.
- Causes: Only damage led to damage prevention. A creature that was destroyed, buried, or killed due to toughness reduction was put into its owner's graveyard immediately, during the resolution of the effect that killed it. Regeneration effects could be used at that time as a specialized effect played during resolution.
- No Delays: Damage-prevention steps were no longer pushed off until the end of a batch. Whenever an effect dealt damage, there was a damage-prevention step just following that effect. For example, Lightning Bolt used in response to Red Ward would kill the creature to be Warded, while it wouldn't have before. And, yes, this meant that Tim would finally be able to finish off the Benalish Hero before she could get her Holy Armor on.
- Legal Effects: The effects that were specifically legal for use during damage prevention were effects that prevent damage, effects that redirect damage, and effects that are only usable when something is damaged (e.g., Eye for an Eye). Mana sources and interrupts had blanket permission to be used as needed, so could also be used.
- Packets of Damage: Damage was now organized into "packets", with each packet representing a source doing a certain amount of damage to a target. Damage-prevention and redirection effects targeted these packages, and redirecting part of a packet would cause it to split in two. If a single effect assigned damage to a target more than once, such as with Mana Clash, then all off the damage was combined into a single packet.
Graveyard and library
- Regeneration: As noted above, regeneration effects were now specialized effects used as soon as a creature would be put into a graveyard; regeneration was not part of damage prevention. Regenerating a creature erased all damage that had been dealt to it over the course of the turn and would remove a combatant from the combat.
- Burial: Bury effects were now completely unpreventable; they didn't just prohibit regeneration.
- Death Effects: Whenever a permanent was put into the graveyard, all appropriate effects were triggered, even if the source of the effect had left play. For example, if an animated Soul Net died, you could now gain 1 life from its effect.
- On its Way to the Graveyard: This ‘’Fourth Edition’’ rule was removed. Any creature could be sacrificed during damage prevention, even creatures that had received lethal damage.
- Counting the Library: Players were now allowed to count anyone's library at any time.