A Comprehensive Glossary Of Magic: The Gathering Terms, And The Do’s And Don’ts Of Playing Magic
Welcome Planeswalker. When playing Magic: The Gathering you are always learning. Even the pro’s are still learning, whether it’s complicated interactions between cards, reading your opponent, or simply just what to do on a complex board state. If you are lucky enough to have a mentor then your rate of progression will be greatly increased. What I present to you are a generic set of basic rules to adhere to when in doubt. A new player can be identified by breaking many of these rules often. Play with these in mind, and you can skip the bumbling ‘new guy‘ stage in no time!
When reading articles, watching video coverage or attending your local Friday Night Magic you may find a lot of the words and phrases alien to you. These guidelines are followed by a Glossary of Magic: The Gathering terms, slang, acronyms and nicknames so you are able to keep up with the lingo every step of the way.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Magic: The Gathering
This list is in no particular order, and many of these points have exceptions. These are old-wives-expression-esque pieces of advice.
- Don’t play creatures with Defender (previously known as Walls) purely for defending purposes. They may represent a speed bump in your opponents assault, but eventually they will be able to ignore your defender and you are a card down. Exceptions to this rule are when the Wall replaces itself with a card (Wall of Omens) or when they represent a mana acceleration (Overgrown Battlement).
- Aura’s are generally bad. If your opponent responds by killing your creature then you are down two cards, i.e you have been 2 for 1’d. If the creature gets blinked, flickered or bounced then you will lose the aura too, meaning they are easy to ‘destroy’. Not being able to move them also makes them ideal Pacify targets (a sweet Aura in Limited incidentally). Exceptions to this are when the aura returns to you (Rancor), placing them on a creature with hexproof (Invisible Stalker) or when they gain enough value from 2 or more attacks (Unflinching Courage).
- Life gain alone is bad. When a card provides you with only a boost in life, avoid it like the plague. It does not help you kill your opponent, and is essentially a dead card. Exceptions of this are soley when you are running a ‘lifegain’ deck in which you have cards like Felidar Sovereign that win you the game for your efforts.
- You should get into the habit of attacking before doing anything else on your turn. This means you will have your full potential of mana available to use combat tricks or pay the bill for a Mana Leak. If you are worried about paying mana during combat due to a counterspell then make your land drop first. Otherwise, you should make your land drop after combat. This gives your opponent the least information possible. Not knowing you have your second Mountain in hand can affect how they play around that combat step. Exceptions to this are when you have a creature/effect that benefits your attack, like a lord (Drogskol Captain) or have a creature that thrives on death (Blood Artist).
- Instants, creatures with flash and activated abilities should be activated at the end of your opponents turn. This is probably the most common error new players make, and makes you feel all cool like Fonzie once you get into the habit of doing it. Want to flash in Restoration Angel? Do it at the end of their turn! Want to exile a creature with Deathrite Shaman? At end of their turn! Firing off a huge Sphinx’s Revelation? End of their turn!
Similarly to the previous point, doing this means that you have all your mana untapped for 99% of the time. See ‘draw go’ in the glossary. Exceptions only really include the need to respond to something. I.e When you want to ambush a creature with your flash dude, or when your opponent casts lingering souls and passes priority to you- exile that s**t!
- When you draw a card at the beginning of your turn, don’t put it in your hand. Wait, what? Seriously! Here are some triggers you can miss easily by drawing too hastily;
– Echo costs
– Pact costs (lose the game!)
By drawing the card and placing it face down right next to your deck, you can then give yourself a couple of seconds to assess if there is anything you should be doing during your upkeep. It’s an uncommon occurrence, but a good habit to get into nonetheless.
- When a creature is returned to your hand, try to play that creature before other plays you might have. This gives your opponent less information, seeing as they already knew about this one after-all! The same applies to spells your opponent may have seen with a spell or effect. In regards to this logic, shiny cards can be used to a disadvantage depending on how on the ball you are. Eg. If an opponent knows you have a normal Dissipate in your hand but doesn’t know you have a second one (which is shiny) then you should play the normal one first. This way they go back to square one: not knowing what’s in your hand.
If you were to be sloppy and use the shiny copy first, then they would know that you still have a non-shiny version in your hand. Neat huh? Exceptions to this is when there is a better play available than the card your opponent knows about. You play the known card when the plays are relatively even.
- If you suspect your opponent of wielding some removal or counter-spells in hand, don’t run out your best creature/spell. Fire them out from the least important up to your best. This way they either have to let them resolve/leave them unscathed or waste their spells on them, leaving your big guns unchecked. Win win situations is something we can get behind in Magic! Exceptions to this are when your opponent is ‘tapped out’. If you were worried about being ‘countered’ then you should use this opportunity to summon the green ghost army from Lotr: Return of the King to your side – while you can.
- If you know or suspect that your opponent is playing Bloodrush creatures (are they Red/Green?) you should kill their creatures before combat. This way, they can’t respond with Bloodrush pump abilities. Exceptions to this are when your removal is non-damage based, i.e they are toast anyway!
- Try to refrain from playing creatures with a casting cost of more than 3mana that don’t do anything immediately upon arrival to the battlefield. This way, you are less likely to have bad ‘trades’ with removal. Exceptions to this are creatures that are very resilient and spit in the face of removal. Yes, Olivia Voldaren is technically a 4drop with no immediate impact, but she is actually a 6 drop that dodges Searing Spear shoots a creature.
- Did you know? Aura’s and Equipment attached to creature don’t tap when that creature becomes tapped? Just thought I’d say. Seeing as Haunted Plate Mail got printed recently! I really like that card, I’ve got my toes crossed that it turns out to be sweet.
- Be careful with your hand of cards! As Jake would say, “Keep those hunnies hidden, or I’ll get a strategic advantage”. By this I also mean when you are shuffling your deck. I.e make sure your cards are always facing you, and keep an eye on your opponent when they shuffle them to make sure they aren’t sneaking peeks like a sneaky peeker.
- Once you have an adequate mana base, start hoarding unneeded land in your hand. During the late game you may find yourself drawing land after land. There is NO reason for your opponent to know that though! I’ve seen countless players place their 13th land on the battlefield, leaving their hand empty. I then know they have literally got nothing, and this gives me a warm fuzzy feeling inside.
When the game becomes a stand still of you and your opponent drawing probable lands back and forth it doesn’t hurt to keep some in your hand, a bluff one might say! Exceptions to this are when your deck includes a spell with X in it’s cost and you will want to wring every ounce of juice out of it. Another reason for this could be because you are playing Wildfire or something similar. Additionally, when your opponent is playing discard effects, it is good practice to keep lands in your hand from the mid game onwards, so as to perserve your more powerful spells.
- Always play the minimal amount of cards for a deck that the format allows. This reduces variance, which is a good thing. Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa wrote about this at some point with a very good example: If you could be dealt the following options for poker, which five would you choose?
Ace, King, Queen, Jack, 10 -all the same suit (i.e no variance! Perfect hand every time!)
Ace, King, Queen, Jack, 10, 9 – all the same suit (i.e A high chance that the 9 will ruin everything)
That’s what the 41st or 61st card is. It’s the worst card in your deck, and you would always rather draw something else than it.
- If you are playing Blue and have untapped mana (like you always should) then you should always consider countering or responding to your opponents spells. This is regardless to if you have a counterspell in your hand, or even in your deck. This way, when you do have one but choose not to, it’s not so telegraphed.
- Life is a resource. Do not trade away small creatures during the early game to save yourself 1 or 2 dmg a turn. You want to get yourself in the position where you can outclass these creatures with better spells or creatures of your own, and having your early troops makes that easier. Unless you are truly threatened, take the damage. Exceptions to this are burn decks, where every damage dealt to you counts. Similarly when dealing with infect decks, block whenever possible to avoid Giant Growth poison kills out of nowhere.
- Always read the cards. Sounds ridiculous right? It actually isn’t. I’ve read accounts of countless situations where professionals thought a creature had flying because the picture looked like it should, or because the mana cost and name made them think it was another creature.
Only recently did I realize that Spellstutter Sprite countered ‘X or less’ and not ‘equal to X’. I also had assumed that Storm only counted your own cast spells till I read a Storm card in Modern Masters. I could defend myself by saying it is because I had never played with these cards firsthand, but it is really just because we are erroneous, tangible humans. Anything that gets played, even land – must get read in full!
- If you win the coin flip, always choose to Play. There was a statistical analysis of this phenomenon recently carried out by a member of the Channel Fireball Team and a higher win % was found when being on the play. There are the occasional decks that may be better on the draw, but if in doubt, always choose to play.
- If you suspect your opponent may be playing ‘combat’ tricks like Thunder Strike, do not play around them . This is more relevant to the Limited format. If your opponent keeps attacking their 2/2 into your 3/3 then you are thinking that they either,
A. Are not thinking.
B. Have a combat trick.
You cannot just take the damage all day, and in the end, if the use a combat trick to trade with your creature then it is still just a 1 for 1. Exceptions to this would be when you have a game winning creature that doesn’t have to get it’s hands dirty to get you the win.
- This final point is a little less basic. When you want to draw more land and have a fetchland* in play, delay using it till your next turn. This way your statistical odds of drawing a land are higher. Similarly, if you already have multiple land in your hand then ensure that you use any fetchlands you have as soon as possible to lower your chances of drawing more land.
*Arid Mesa if you got em’, but this applies to using Terramorphic Expanse too.
It is said that for every rule in Magic, there is another that breaks it. Similarly, the rules I just proposed almost all had exceptions. That is the beauty of the game. For every rule I made, there are countless more reasons to back it and counter it (though more to back it, seeing as that was the general idea).
If you are really new to the game then some of the terms I’ve been mentioning may have been unknown to you, which is why you I have provided them below!
Popular Magic: The Gathering Terms & Slang
- 187 – A creature with an ‘enters the battlefield’ ability. Either because Nekrataal was #187 is Visions or because it is the LA police code for homicide. Maybe both?
- 1 Lander – An opening hand that consists of only 1 land. ‘I kept a one lander because I had steam vents and a Ponder‘.
- Accel – Short hand for ‘accelerate’. Increasing your mana base by more than one land/mana per turn.
- Alpha striking – Attacking with everything with the intention/assumption that this will get you the win.
- Archetype – Prominent decks in a metagame are referred to as archetypes, as can Control, Aggro or Combo be referred to as such.
- Aggro – An aggressive deck, generally with cheap, fast, power based creatures. Attacking can also be referred to getting ‘aggro’ on someone.
- Answer – A solution that deals with a problem – Typically a removal spell for a dangerous creature.
- Bash – Another name for ‘attack’.
- ‘Bear‘ – Any 2/2 creature for 2mana. Named after Grizzly Bears
- Beatdown – Attacking a player effectively i.e Giving them a battering!
- Big Ass – A creature with high toughness to power ratio.
- The bin – The graveyard. Also used to as a verb for when something goes there, i.e ‘You have to bin your Mogg War Marshal because you didn’t pay the echo! You silly sausage.’)
- Blow up – Another way of saying ‘destroy’, however it does tend to apply to non-creature situations primarily. It’s natural to say ‘I blow up your Oblivion Ring’ but not ‘I blow up your Dark Confidant’.
- Bounce – Return a permanent (usually a creature) to it’s owners hand. There is no better example than Boomerang.
- Blinking – Returning a creature to your own hand, named after the obnoxious Blinking Spirit.
- Board – The permanents on the battlefield make up the ‘board’. Each player has their own board, i.e the permanents they control.
- Bolt – Specifically it is Lightning bolt, but is used as a verb for similar red spells also.
- Boltbait – A powerful must-kill creature that draws removal to it like a magnet. Eg Elvish Piper.
- Bomb – A Limited term referring to a card that can take over the game by itself.
- Break – A deck can ‘break’ a format by being too powerful for there to be any alternative strategies. Caw Blade is the most recent occurrence of this. One can also attempt to ‘break’ a card in a specific deck.
- Broken – A card that is deemed over powered and nigh unbeatable!
- Burn – Generally red, damage dealt by spells or abilities.
- Cantrip – A spell that has ‘draw-a-card’ stapled on.
- Card advantage – Technically, it’s having more of them than your opponent. It crops up in many ways. These are all forms of card advantage; Casting Opportunity puts you three cards up from before you cast it. Casting Mind Rot on your opponent costs you one card but they lose two. Using Electrolyze to kill a creature puts them down a card but you lose none (Electrolyze replaces itself with another card).
- Chase rare – A highly desirable card. Yum yum yum
- Chump blocking – To throw a creature in front of an attacker that they won’t trade with, purely to preserve your life total.
- Clock – The amount of turns it will take for a player to die.
- Combo – An interaction of 2 or more cards. A combo deck is built around a combo and uses it to win.
- Commander – A multiplayer orientated format where you have a Legendary creature lead your 100 card deck. This creature is referred to also as your Commander, or General)
- Control – A deck that aims to weather the early storm and win the late game. Uses counterspells, removal, sweepers and card draw profusely to gain ‘control’.
- Counter – Short hand for counter-spells. It can also mean a physical counter that goes on a permanent, but I’m sure you’ll be able to tell which in context (I have faith in you).
- Crack/Pop – Activate a permanent that involves sacrificing itself as part of it’s cost. Eg Arid Mesa, Sakura-Tribe Elder, Expedition Map. ‘At the end of your turn I’m going to pop my Expedition Map’ to search for a land’.
- Crack – is also another name for opening a booster!
- Curve – A deck is said to have a good ‘curve’ if it physically has a smooth arc from low drops to high drops (when laid on a table in converted mana cost). A low curve means a deck with a lot of low drops, a high curve vice versa.
- Curve out – To cast a 1mana spell turn one, 2mana spell turn 2, and so on. Making the most efficient use of your mana each turn.
- Dead card – A card that has no impact on the current board state. When drawn it is referred to as a ‘dead draw’.
- Decked – When you have no cards in your library, see ‘Milling’.
- Disruption – Cards that attack a players hand. The most classic example here is Thoughseize.
- Dome/Face – Dealing direct damage to a player.
- Draw go – When a (typically) control deck does not plays within it’s own turn but on their opponents. I.e Draw a card and pass the turn.
- Drops – Cheap spells are referred to as low drops, expensive are high drops. A number before represents the casting cost, i.e a 4 drop is a spell that costs 4.
- Durdle – A durdley deck is one that is considered to be bad. To ‘durdle’ is to make bad picks or deck choices.
- Eat – This is often used when you sacrifice a creature to boost another ones effectiveness. The most common usage is when playing with ‘devour’ naturally. It can also be used for when a creature dies in combat but does not kill their opposing creature; they are said to have been ‘eaten’.
- Engine – A combo of cards that provide you with value when you go through a series of stages. Like an engine! A recent example would be the Bogbrew Witch, Festering Newt and Bubbling Cauldron interaction.
- Gas – Amount of effective cards and options. When you have ran out of cards, you have ran out of gas.
- Going deep – Following a high risk/high reward strategy, generally a Limited term.
- Going off – This primarily refers to a combo deck making a series of plays during a turn that most likely results in them winning that turn or the next.
- Going infinite – This is ‘going off’ but also achieving an infinite loop, in which you gain infinite life or make infinite haste creatures (it varies from combo to combo).
- Gimmicky – A deck that relies on an easily disrupt-able combo, but has a fun and/or powerful upside. Similar to ‘going deep’.
- Grip – Another name for your hand of cards.
- Hardcast – When you cast a card from your hand. Rather than, Eg. pay a madness cost or use a reanimation spell.
- Hoser – A card or deck that is extremely effective against another deck or archetype. Kor Firewalker hoses mono-red decks.
- ‘Hill Giant’ – A 3/3 for 4 mana.
- Fatties – Big, expensive creatures.
- Fat pants – Imbuing a creature with high toughness to power ratio.
- Finisher – A creature that gets the job done once you have gained control. They tend to be resilient and/or massive. FINISH HIM!
- Fizzle – When a spell doesn’t resolve because it longer has legal targets. ‘I cast Electrolyze at my opponents creature, but they sacrificed it in response – and so Electrolyze fizzled. I didn’t get a card either! I was sad.
- ‘Flying Monster‘ – A 3/3 Flyer for 4.
- Flicker – Exiling a creature and then returning it to the battlefield. See Momentry Blink.
- Float – Mana in your pool that you have not used yet is said to be ‘floating’.
- Flooded – When you draw too many lands compared to spells.
- Hate – The dark feeling you have when you are losing… Only joking! Hate cards are niche and specific against a certain archetype or colour. Shatterstorm is a hate card for Affinity decks, Lifebane Zombie is a hate card on decks that play green/white creatures. The later is not so specific, but his effect is ‘hate’ nonetheless.
- Highlander – A format where your deck consists of 100 cards, no two being the same (except for basic lands). ‘There can be only one!’
- Janky – Cards or a deck that include unexpected appearances, generally because the cards are terrible.
- Lethal – Amount of damage to kill a player, known as having ‘Lethal on board’.
- Line – Taking/following a line is planning turns ahead, or with responses considered. A strategy to dismantle a problem or to get you the win.
- Lock – When you have complete control over your opponent regardless of any cards they could draw.
- Mana screwed – When you don’t have enough lands to cast your spells. ‘I’ve been stuck on 2 lands for 6 turns!’
- Looting – The term used for act of drawing cards and then discarding that same number. E.g Faithless Looting.
- Metagame – The various decks you might expect to find at a Tournament, Friday Night Magic or even just your own living room. These are all different metagames, and the deck you design for one is made with only that metagame in mind.
- Midrange – Creatures/spells around the 3-5mana slot. A midrange deck plays a lot of these and hopes to win with them before reaching the late game.
- Milling – Putting cards from the top of a library into the graveyard. A player who dies this way is said to have been ‘milled’.
- Mirror – Shorthand for ‘mirror match’, and is when you play against a deck that shares most/all the same cards as yours.
- Mull – Mulligan. ‘I had to mull to 5 in game 1’.
- Netdeck – To copy a deck from the internet to play for yourself. Scorned in the olden days’, is now the norm.
- Non-bo – Two cards that interact with each other negatively. Eg. Dryad Militant in a deck also playing Lingering Souls.
- Nuts – The best possible card or situation. Also known as the ‘stone nuts’.
- Nut draw – The perfect possible starting hand for your deck.
- Outs – When losing to one of more threats, an ‘out’ is a card that can answer the problem or at least buy you more time.
- Pilot – Playing a deck. i.e ‘Jake was piloting a Delver deck at the Pro Tour’.
- Play – In one-on-one, being on the ‘play’ means you start but do not draw a card.
- Play – Casting a spell or using an ability. Essentially making a ‘play’ is doing something!
- Pressure – Having a board presence and/or having a player on a low clock.
- Pump – Boost a creatures power and/or toughness until end of turn, classic case is Giant Growth.
- Removal – A spell or ability that deals with a threat. Every colour does so in a different way, but the most obvious example would be Terminate.
- Rogue – An unknown, original deck. The player can be said to have ‘went rogue’. Conley Woods is a renowned rogue.
- Sac – Short hand for ‘sacrifice’.
- Scoop – The act of picking up your cards implying your concession of that game.
- Shipping – This can mean ending your turn and so passing it your opponent, i.e ‘I played a land and then shipped the turn’. It also can refer to throwing your opening hand back when mulliganing. ‘My opening hand was all land so I shipped it’.
- Splash – In relation to deck construction, when you add a colour to a deck in a very small ratio to the rest of the decks colour identity. ‘I splashed blue in my black-green deck for Meloku the Clouded Mirror. It is most commonly used in Limited.
- Slow rolling – Delaying a play for more effect or value. A logical scenario is waiting till your opponent commits more creatures to the board before casting Supreme Verdict. The scummy scenario is allowing your opponent to go through the motions of their whole turn when you have lethal damage in your hand.
- Snap Pick/Windmill slam – During a booster draft, having a very easy and beneficial pick – probably a bomb.
- Snap keep – When you analyze your hand and find it unwavering, unmistakably, undeniably keep-able.
- Stabilize – Managing to gain/regain control of the game. Control decks are said to be stabilizing for the early part of the game, until they are in control.
- Swing – This can simply mean attacking. ‘I’ll swing in for with Thragtusk for 5′. It can also refer to a swing in tempo/control of the game. ‘I had my opponent down to 3 life but then she cast Cruel Ultimatum – it was a big swing’.
- Table – In a booster draft, a card is said to ‘table’ when it makes it all the way round the table back to you. Also called ‘wheeling’.
- Tanking – Considering all the options and planning what line to take. Can be said to be ‘deep in the tank’.
- Tapped out – Having no mana available, and so no answers -probably!
- Tech – Getting experienced advice from someone. Another form is an answer in your sideboard for a certain matchup, i.e ‘I had some sweet tech for the Bant Hexproof matchup’.
- Threat – Generally a dangerous creature, but it can be anything on board that is threatening to make you lose. E.g a Planewalker nearing their ultimate, or Helix Pinacle with 99 counters on it!
- Ticking up – Increasing the amount of counters on a permanent. The most common example is using a + ability on a Planewalker.
- Tilt – Being emotionally involved in the game causing a negative effect on your performance.
- Tim – Stems from the original Prodigal Sorcerer. It now means to deal 1 damage to a creature or player by use of an ability.
- Topdeck – When you have no cards in hand and draw the specific card you need from your library.
- Top decking mode – When you have no cards in hand and are playing cards as you draw them.
- Trade Up – When you manage to trade a card that is worth less for a better one (mana costs, not £!).
- Trick – An instant that is used during combat to even the odds in your creatures favour. Also known as a ‘combat trick’.
- Troll Shroud – Now known as ‘hexproof’.
- Tucking – When cause a Commander is shuffled into their owners deck, they are said to have been ‘tucked’.
- ‘You are so lucky’ – Your opponent tried to swear, but MtGO won’t let them!
- Vanilla – A creature with no abilities. Eg. Undead Minotaur.
- Variance – Chances of drawing the right cards at the right time. One reduces variance by including more of our key cards, cantrips, cards like Ponder, playing the minimum number of cards allowed etc.
- Win Con – Short hand for win condition. Examples are the ‘finisher’ in a control deck, or Tendrils of Agony when playing storm.
- Wrath – Destroy all creatures spells, referring to the original Wrath of God. Is also used as a verb; ‘He wrathed my creatures, so I cast Restoration Angel at the end of his turn’.
- Zone – This can refer to the Commander, exile or suspend zone. ‘When my commander dies, I’ll return him to his zone’. A second meaning for the ‘zone’ is a zen like state where a player is playing at a higher level than normal, and is said to be in the ‘zone’. Finkel doesn’t agree with this superstition, and so, I’m inclined not to either.
Acronyms & Nicknames in Magic: The Gathering
- BBE – Blood Braid Elf
- Bob – Dark Confidant
- Bop or Birds – Birds of Paradise
- CC – casting cost
- CMC – converted mana cost
- Deed – Pernicious Deed
- EDH – Elder Dragon Highlander (another name for the format Commander)
- EOT – End of turn
- ETB (Enters the battlefield, previously known as CIP – Comes into play)
- gg – Good game
- Ghost Daddy – Obzedat, the Ghost Council
- Gl hf – Good luck, have fun
- Goyf‘ – Tarmogoyf
- Hymn – Hymn to Tourach
- Finkel – Shadowmage Infiltrator
- FNM – Friday Night Magic
- Force – Force of Will
- FTK – Flametongue Kavu
- FTW – For the win
- Keg – Powder Keg
- LSV – Luis Scott-Vargas
- O Ring – Oblivion Ring
- Raptor – Josh Utter-Leyton
- RDW – Red Deck Wins
- Sad Robot/Jens – Solemn Simulacrum
- SB – sideboard
- Samuel L Jackson – Echo Mage
- Sean Connery – Odric, the Tactician
- Snap – Snapcaster Mage
- Swords – Swords to Plowshare
- TSG – Tristan Shaun Gregson
I hope this has been beneficial for you. There will be plenty of local phrases and slang for you to learn, but this is as good a starting block for you as any. For more experienced players, if you learnt only a couple of new terms reading this then you know more than you did before reading it – you’re welcome!
Isn’t it odd that Snap, Crack and Pop are all Magic jargon? Makes you kind of hungry.
Till next time nerds!