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Magic: The Gathering
Magic card back

Back of a Magic playing card

Magic: The Gathering, also Magic or MTG, is a strategy card game created by Richard Garfield in 1993, and published by Wizards of the Coast.[1][2]

Magic holds the title of "Most Played Trading Card Game",[3] and is currently published in English, Simplified Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, and Spanish.[4][5] Digitally, the game can be played in Magic Online and MTG Arena. Magic is not a single game but rather a game system that shares a set of rules and game components (mainly cards).[6] It can be played in many different formats.

General[ | ]

Within the game of Magic, each player takes the role of a planeswalker, a powerful, magic-wielding being.[7]

The game is commonly played with two players but can be played with more. Each player uses their own deck, which may be constructed from cards they previously owned, or from a limited pool of cards at an event. There are several ways of winning the game, the most common being reducing your opponent to 0 life, from a starting total of 20.[8][9]

There are currently more than 27,000 unique Magic cards,[10] to which hundreds are added each year. Cards are sold in a variety of languages and products, including booster packs and preconstructed theme decks.

Magic is a game of hidden information, meaning that each player knows secrets that the other players do not.[11][12] By contrast, some other games, such as chess, expose the entire game state to all players. Being forced to guess from imperfect information, combined with the inherent randomness in the game (such as from shuffling), makes finding perfect or ideal strategies impractical, if not impossible, and tests a variety of cognitive skills.[13][14][15][16] This is compounded by the continual addition of new cards, which forces a regular reevaluation of deckbuilding and gameplay strategies and leads to an ever-shifting metagame as players adapt.

Trading card game[ | ]

Magic is a trading card game, or TCG. While trading cards predate Magic by more than a century, and solitaire games using cards date back to the 1950s, Magic was the first product to combine randomized, collectible cards with deck-construction and interactive gameplay.[17][18][19]

The colors of Magic[ | ]

Magic recognizes five colors for mechanical purposes: white, blue, black, red, and green. Each card may be any of these colors, or colorless. A card may also be multicolored, and a hybrid subset of multicolored cards offers additional flexibility.

Each color has characteristic strategies, mechanics, and philosophies. These properties derive from commonplace associations with the colors themselves, and from the practical considerations of creating good gameplay. The "color pie", or color wheel, is a mnemonic device and creative tool based on the ring of colored dots on the back of Magic cards. For any particular color, the color pie uses adjacency on that ring to split the other colors into a pair of neighboring allied colors and a more distant pair of enemy colors.[20]

Mana system[ | ]

Mana is the primary resource for playing spells. Mana is typically drawn from lands (like the basic lands Plains, Island, Swamp, Mountain, and Forest) but it can also be generated by non-land permanents and spells. Players choose whatever cards they want. For that to work, the game needs some way to make as many cards as possible matter. By making spells have a cost, the designers can make different cards important at different parts of the game. Because of this, each card now has a different reason to be considered for a deck. This diversity of card usage is a key factor in making the entire trading card game work.[21]

Card types[ | ]

A card type is a characteristic that each Magic: The Gathering card has. Each card type has its own rules for how they are played. The main card types are: artifact, creature, enchantment, instant, land, planeswalker and sorcery. Some objects may have more than one card type (e.g., artifact creature). Additionally, cards may have supertypes or subtypes.

History[ | ]

The first Magic core set, retroactively labeled Alpha, was created by Dr. Richard Garfield, bought by Wizards of the Coast, and released in August 1993.[22][23] High demand led to a second Beta print run two months later, followed by a rebranded Unlimited Edition. When Richard first made the game, he called it Magic. The name was too basic to trademark so the name was changed to Mana Clash.[24] Everyone kept calling it Magic so they looked into what they needed to do to call it Magic. The answer was to add something to it to make it more unique. Richard chose “The Gathering” as a sub-name signifying the beginning, as the plan was to keep changing the sub-names. The next version would be called Magic: Ice Age.[25][26] This idea was however quickly abandoned.[27]

Arabian Nights, released December 1993, was the first expansion set, consisting of new cards, rather than reprints. The first "cycle" of thematically linked new releases, now known as a block, began with Ice Age. There are now over seventy expansions, Modern Horizons 3 being the latest.

The full, official rules for Magic change regularly with the release of new products. Most of these changes simply define and enable new mechanics, though major revisions have occurred infrequently, such as the 6th Edition update in 1999 and the Grand Creature Type Update in 2007. Proclamations that a new update will finally "kill" the game are common.[28][29] Despite this, the game has flourished, with repeated statements that the most recent large set has become the best-selling set of all time.[30][31]

Mark Rosewater attributes the game's success, in part, to three core concepts introduced by Richard Garfield at the game's inception: the trading card game, the color wheel, and the mana system.[17][32] Additionally, since 2008, Wizards of the Coast has devoted efforts to acquiring new players.[33] Such efforts include a shift in game design to mitigate complexity creep, structured play opportunities to introduce women players to Magic,[34] and more in-game representation of women[35][36] and minorities.[37][38][39] In spite of these efforts, the percentage of the player base that identifies as female is currently in the mid-twenties, down from 38% in the recent past.[40]

Color Wheel

The color wheel (© Wizards of the Coast)

Competitive and professional play[ | ]

The first major Magic: The Gathering tournament was the 1994 World Championships held at Gen Con '94. It was a single-elimination 512-person Constructed event run over three days of competition.[41]

The winner, Zak Dolan, received a trophy, several booster packs from expansions ranging from Arabian Nights to Ice Age, a deck of Magic poker deck, and a T-shirt. In 1995, Brand Manager Skaff Elias suggested that Organized Play needed to take the step to the next level. The idea was to run several tournaments each year that would gather the best players in the world and reward them with cash for their dedication to the game. Players should have something to aspire to. Elias and Mark Rosewater along with others started to work on the concept. On February 16–18, 1996 the first Pro Tour, very briefly called The Black Lotus Pro Tour, was held in New York.[42] The first Pro Tour season included three more Pro Tour events, culminating in the final Pro Tour, the 1995 World Championships, held in Seattle. In the following years, a Pro Tour season (one year) always consisted of five and later six Pro Tours.

The Pro Players Club was a reward system associated with the Pro Tour. Points accumulated during the season determined the players' level in the club, each with different benefits. The highest levels made it possible to make a living as a professional player.

Esports and tabletop[ | ]

After the successful introduction of MTG Arena in 2018, Wizards of the Coast and Hasbro debuted Magic esports in 2019 and started to refer to the original paper game as "tabletop Magic".[43][44]

Initially, Esports events were called Mythic Championships, and later Split Championship. Esports also introduced the Magic Pro League and the Rivals League.

Jumping the Shark?[ | ]

By 2020, the future of Magic: the Gathering was questioned by the common players. This was in response to many recently-printed cards being banned because of their high percentage of use warping the meta of nearly all formats, and the dizzying amount of products which were targeted towards the "whales" of the game and priced beyond what the average player could and was willing to spend.[45][46][47]

In 2021, the Universes Beyond-series was announced. This allowed for other IPs to be introduced into the game.

Effects of the COVID-19 pandemic[ | ]

The COVID-19 outbreak in January 2020 resulted in preventative measures taken in March. A large swath of the Grand Prix event schedule was canceled, and the Players Tour Finals Houston and the May Invitational also were canceled.[48] By April, it was clear that further events were not safely feasible to hold, and Wizards wrote off the entire season as not salvageable.[49]

By May, the future of in-person gatherings was uncertain and likely to remain that way for some time. Wizards of the Coast, therefore, shifted the 2020 Partial Season competitions from in-person destinations to online events, played remotely through MTG Arena.[50]

Ending professional play[ | ]

In May 2021, Magic Esports announced a return to in-person play post-COVID-19 for the 2022–23 Players Tour Season.[51] Although the digital play was considered to be a lasting part of of the tournament scene, it is deemed to be only part of the equation going forward. As a result, the 2021–22 Players Tour Season was announced to be the last season featuring the MPL and the Rivals League.[51] Pro Players were told that they should no longer consider success in tournament Magic to be a valid career option.[52] Some form of managing invites for large, Pro-Tour equivalent tournaments will be implemented, and the salaries towards the Leagues would be directed into the prize pool, but no system appears to have been developed at this time.[53]

On WeeklyMTG, Blake Rasmussen explained the announcement as an attempt to re-balance where Wizards spends its organized play resources.[54] “For the longest time, [esports] sucked up all of the resources,” he revealed, leading to a top-heavy organized play system that didn’t serve competitive Magic well. He explained that Wizards of the Coast had identified five pillars of play that they wanted to balance, both organized and casual: friendly play, like kitchen table Magic and FNM; aspirational play, liked PTQs and Grand Prix; elite play, like the MPL and Rivals; festivals, like CommandFest; and digital play on MTG Arena and Magic Online.

$1 billion brand[ | ]

Despite losses in the third quarter of 2022, Magic grew that year into the Hasbro's first $1 billion brand.[55] The celebrations of 30 years Magic started with the Magic 30 convention.

Warning by Bank of America[ | ]

On November 14, 2022, a Bank of America analyst said that Hasbro was “destroying the long-term value” of Magic: The Gathering by overprinting cards. The dire warning was accompanied by a double downgrade of Hasbro stock — from “buy” to “underperform” — as its valuation fell more than 5% before trading began on Monday. The analyst also called out the Magic 30th Anniversary Edition as particularly egregious.[56][57][58]

Ambassador Program[ | ]

2023 Jeweled Lotus desk light

2023 Ambassador Program swag

In 2023, Wizards of the Coast introduced the MTG Ambassador Program.[59] This program provides content creators with additional tools to create their Magic: The Gathering content. Ambassadors receive set information and a variety of cards from each set before debut day in order to prepare content for their audience. In addition to receiving exclusive MTG Ambassador swag, creators als receive MTG Arena benefits, and MagicCon badges. Moreover, these creators may receive insights directly from Wizards of the Coast. Ambassadors are currently limited to North America.

DCI[ | ]

The DCI (formerly, Duelists' Convocation International) is the official sanctioning body for competitive play in Magic: The Gathering. The DCI provides game rules, tournament operating procedures, and other materials to private tournament organizers and players. It also operates a judge certification program to provide consistent rules enforcement and promote fair play. Wizards of the Coast and the DCI control the list of banned and restricted cards, which are considered too strong in particular tournaments.

To play in sanctioned events, players must register for a free membership and receive a DCI number. The DCI maintains a global player rating database using the Elo rating system (Planeswalker Points) and members have access to their entire tournament history online. If a member commits frequent or flagrant rules infractions, their membership can be suspended for variable amounts of time depending on the severity, from one month to a lifetime.

Decks and tournaments[ | ]

Tournament decks in general must have at least 60 cards. A deck may have no more than four copies of an individual card, besides basic lands which may have any number. If a sideboard is used, it may contain no more than 15 cards.

Constructed[ | ]

Most games of Magic, especially casual ones, are Constructed formats, where the decks are prepared by the players before they arrive at the game. Most (but not all) Constructed formats are DCI-sanctioned, and thus decks in these formats can be expected at tournaments.

  • In the Standard format, players play with a deck of at least 60 cards from the most recent sets.[60]
  • Vintage is the oldest format in the game, simply because it allows players the ability to use almost any card from any black or white bordered set.
  • In the Legacy format, cards from all sets are playable, though many of the cards that are restricted in vintage are banned in legacy.
  • Modern is currently the most popular competitive non-rotating format in the game and bridges the gap between standard and legacy. The card pool in this format is much smaller compared to Legacy and Vintage. The card pool in this format encompasses all sets from Eighth Edition on.
  • Commander is the most popular casual multiplayer format with specific rules centered around a legendary creature called the commander.[61][62]

Limited[ | ]

In the Limited format, players do not play with decks they built ahead of time, but play with decks of cards from sealed booster packs, which are built at the beginning of a limited tournament before play begins. In limited formats, the minimum deck size is 40 cards. Generally, 17-19 lands and 21-23 spells are played, but there is some variance in this aspect. This format is favored by some, as it allows all players, no matter the size of their collection, to have an equal chance of doing well in a tournament.

  • In the Draft format, each participating player is seated around a table, usually of eight players, and is given three sealed booster packs. Each player opens the first of their packs, chooses a card from it, and places the chosen card face down on the table in front of them. The remaining cards in the pack are passed to the left, and players repeat this process with the pack just passed to them until all the cards are chosen. The same is done with the second pack, this time passing to the right, and with the third pack, passing left again. Each player then builds a deck using the 45 cards they chose from the booster packs. Sanctioned drafts can be run with any number of boosters from any set, as long as each drafter receives the same product. The most common drafts are from the most recent block.
  • Sealed Deck is a common format used at prerelease tournaments. In this format, everyone is given the same amount of product (e.g., six booster packs). From that pool of cards, and adding in as many basic land as desired, each player must build a deck of at least 40 cards. Any opened cards not put in the main deck count as part of the sideboard. In a sealed deck, the skill is making the best out of what you're given.[63]

Conventions[ | ]

Magic is yearly featured at several conventions:

These conventions may feature storyline or design panels, Blogatog live, Massive Magic (playing with giant Magic cards that are over three feet big),[64], etc.

Online[ | ]

  • Wizards' online convention, Uncon, featured several tournaments and contests.[65]
  • Hasbro PulseCon

Awards[ | ]

  • In 1994, awards from the Game Manufacturers Association (GAMA) for Magic: The Gathering and Legends.
  • Magic is listed on the Games Magazine Hall of Fame.[66]
  • Academy of Adventure Gaming & Design: Best Collectible Card Game of the Year 2015 for Khans of Tarkir.
  • 2019 Toy Hall of Fame inductee.[67]

Gallery[ | ]

References[ | ]

  1. Richard Garfield (March 12, 2013). "The Creation of Magic: The Gathering". Wizards of the Coast.
  2. Michael G. Ryan (June 01, 2009). "A Magic History of Time". Wizards of the Coast.
  3. Monty Ashley (September 14, 2011). "World Records". Wizards of the Coast.
  4. Wizards of the Coast (July 18, 2022). "Changes to Magic Product Languages". Wizards of the Coast.
  5. Wizards of the Coast (February 22, 2024). "Changes to Magic Product Languages in 2024". Wizards of the Coast.
  6. Mark Rosewater (January 17, 2022). "The Big Picture". Wizards of the Coast.
  7. John Carter (December 25, 2004). "The Original Magic Rulebook". Wizards of the Coast.
  8. Jeff Cunningham (June 30, 2007). "Playing the Game". Wizards of the Coast.
  9. Jeff Cunningham (August 04, 2007). "Lessons Learned". Wizards of the Coast.
  10. Scryfall search using "cmc>=0 is:firstprint" (n = 27,425 cards). Retrieved January 08, 2024.
  11. Sam Stoddard (March 22, 2013). "The Nature of Secrecy". Wizards of the Coast.
  12. Sam Stoddard (October 24, 2014). "Hidden Information". Wizards of the Coast.
  13. Mark Rosewater (July 27, 2009). "Decisions, Decisions, Part I". Wizards of the Coast.
  14. Mark Rosewater (August 10, 2009). "Decisions, Decisions, Part II". Wizards of the Coast.
  15. Sam Stoddard (September 13, 2013). "Decisions, Decisions". Wizards of the Coast.
  16. Reid Duke (August 11, 2014). "What is Magic?". Wizards of the Coast.
  17. a b Mark Rosewater (June 05, 2006). "As Good As It Gets". Wizards of the Coast.
  18. "Trading Card Central - History". Trading Card Central. Retrieved March 23, 2016
  19. unknown, topical (2013-03-28), "It's Cott To be Good!". The Topps Archives. Retrieved Match 23 2016.
  20. Mark Rosewater (August 18, 2003). "The Value of Pie". Wizards of the Coast.
  21. Mark Rosewater (May 30, 2011). "Mana Action". Wizards of the Coast.
  22. Monty Ashley (January 23, 2013). "Twenty Years Ago". Wizards of the Coast.
  23. Wizards of the Coast (January 31, 2018). "Magic's 25th Anniversary; 25 Year Timeline",, Wizards of the Coast.
  24. Mark Rosewater (October 22, 2018). "How Trivial". Wizards of the Coast.
  25. Wizards of the Coast (October, 2005). "Ask Wizards - October 2005". Wizards of the Coast.
  26. Mark Rosewater (March 08, 2015). "What does the titular "Gathering" in MTG mean?". Blogatog. Tumblr.
  27. Magic Arcana (August 05, 2002). "Almost a Different Back". Wizards of the Coast.
  28. Dan Gray (June 01, 2009). "Simple Rules are the Holy Grail of Magic". Wizards of the Coast.
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  30. Mark Rosewater (August 17, 2013). "For years, Mirrodin...". Blogatog. Tumblr.
  31. Mark Rosewater (August 18, 2014). "State of Design 2014". Wizards of the Coast.
  32. Mark Rosewater (March 02, 2009). "Magic Design Seminar: Looking Within". Wizards of the Coast.
  33. Mark Rosewater (March 03, 2008). "Assume the Acquisition". Wizards of the Coast.
  34. Jennifer Robles (December 11, 2012). "The LPS and Creating Play Groups". Wizards of the Coast.
  35. Mark Rosewater (April 17, 2012). "Re: your latest...". Blogatog. Tumblr.
  36. Mark Rosewater (February 12, 2015). "Do you guys...". Blogatog. Tumblr.
  37. James Wyatt (Jan 28, 2015). "The Truth of Names". Wizards of the Coast.
  38. Doug Beyer (September 12, 2014). "This got asked to Maro...". A Voice for Vorthos. Tumblr.
  39. Doug Beyer (September 15, 2013). "Are the Guardians of Meletis...". A Voice for Vorthos. Tumblr.
  40. Mark Rosewater (June 22, 2017). "I think one of the reasons the community argues with you...". Blogatog. Tumblr.
  41. Mark Rosewater (August 23, 2004). "An M:TGer at Gen Con". Wizards of the Coast.
  42. Mark Rosewater (July 26, 2004). "On Tour, Part 1". Wizards of the Coast.
  43. Elaine Chase (December 6, 2018). "The Next Chapter for Magic: Esports". Wizards of the Coast.
  44. Mark Rosewater (March 11, 2019). "Where It's At". Wizards of the Coast.
  45. Jacob Willson (May 28, 2020). "This Article is Not For You: Worrying Trends in MtG".
  46. Kendra Smith (September 30, 2020). "The Problem with The Walking Dead Secret Lair".
  47. SaffronOlive (October 2, 2020). "If You Are Not Happy with the State of Magic, Stop Giving Wizards Your Money".
  48. Wizards of the Coast (March 12, 2020). "Changes to Magic's Competitive Season and Event Schedule.". Wizards of the Coast.
  49. Wizards of the Coast (April 1, 2020). "Esports Update: MPL, Rivals, and Competitor 2020 Partial Season Changes".
  50. Wizards of the Coast (May 20, 2020). "What's Next For the Magic Esports 2020 Partial Season".
  51. a b Wizards of the Coast (May 13, 2021). "Esports: Transitions And Getting Back To The Gathering".
  52. Mike Sigrist (May 13, 2021). "We were told and given permission to say that we should no longer consider Magic professionally moving forward.". Twitter.
  53. The new ORGANIZED PLAY announcement and how it affects competitive players (Video). Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa. YouTube (May 14, 2021).
  54. David McCoy (May 13, 2021). "MPL and Rivals League Will Disband After the 2021-22 Season". Hipsters of the Coast.
  55. Jack Stebbins (October 18, 2022). "Hasbro profit misses the mark as toy maker faces high inventory and inflation".
  56. Senad Karaahmetovic (November 14, 2022). "'Magic: The Gathering' analysis prompts BofA to double downgrade Hasbro".
  57. Charlie Hall (November 14, 2022). "Hasbro’s squeezing Magic: The Gathering players for too much money, big bank warns".
  58. Cassie LaBelle (December 2, 2022). "Is Hasbro Killing Their Golden Goose?".
  59. Wizards of the Coast (June 16, 2023). "What is a Magic: The Gathering Ambassador?". Wizards of the Coast.
  60. Wizards of the Coast. (April 28, 2014.) Standard Format Deck Construction Block Format Deck Construction
  61. The Ferrett (December 11, 2007). "Mixing It Up". Wizards of the Coast.
  62. Mark Rosewater (June 20, 2011). "Word of Commander". Wizards of the Coast.
  63. Mark Rosewater (July 09, 2007). "Signed, Sealed, and Delivered". Wizards of the Coast.
  64. Mark Rosewater (August 20, 2017). "What is Massive Magic?". Blogatog. Tumblr.
  65. Magic Arcana (September 18, 2003). "Uncon 2003 Prize Sketches". Wizards of the Coast.
  66. Magic Arcana (November 12, 2003). "Magic: The Gathering Inducted into Games Magazine Hall of Fame". Wizards of the Coast.
  67. The Strong: National Museum of Play (November 7, 2019). "2019 National Toy Hall of Fame Inductees Announced".
  68. Matt Cavotta (March 27, 2018). "Venturing Outward with the Magic Logo". Wizards of the Coast.

External links[ | ]