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Beginner's Guide to MTG Magic: The Gathering for D&D Players

Updated: Jan 18

As Dungeons and Dragons (D&D or DnD) players, we are no strangers to the world of fantasy and adventure. However, when it comes to Magic: The Gathering (MTG), it can be overwhelming to jump into a new game with its own set of rules and mechanics, let alone all the cardboard! Fear not, as we have put together a beginner's guide to MTG Magic: The Gathering for DnD players.

Introduction: Beginner's Guide to MTG Magic: The Gathering for D&D Players

First and foremost, it is important to understand the basics of MTG. In most formats the game is played with a deck of 60 cards, consisting of spells, creatures, and lands. Each player starts with 20 life points and the goal is to reduce your opponent's life points to zero. This is done by casting spells and summoning creatures to attack your opponent.

One of the key differences between D&D and MTG is the concept of mana. In Magic, mana is the resource used to cast spells and it is most commonly generated by tapping lands. The most common lands are called basic lands and consist of Swamps for black mana, Islands for blue mana, Forests for green mana, Mountains for red mana, and Plains for white mana.

Each basic land produces a specific colour of mana, and spells require a certain amount of mana of specific colours to cast. Think of this like a wizard drawing energy from the land around them to cast a spell, and depending on where they are, mountain, plains, etc. they may pull a different kind of energy (mana,) allowing for different kinds of spells.

Understanding the balance between the different colours of mana is crucial to building a successful deck. With this basic understanding of MTG, we can dive deeper into the world of deck building and strategy.

Understanding the Basics of Magic The Gathering

The Objective

In most Magic The Gathering formats the main objective is to reduce your opponent's life total from 20 to 0. Players do this by casting spells and summoning creatures to attack their opponent. Each player starts with a deck of 60 cards including lands, creatures, spells, and other card types.

Players take turns playing cards and attacking, usually until one player's life total is reduced to 0. One of the things that makes Magic so interesting is that there are several alternate win conditions that can be employed in more advanced strategies!

Card Types

There are several different types of cards in Magic: The Gathering, each with their own unique abilities and functions. Here are the most common card types:

  • Lands: These cards provide the mana needed to cast spells and summon creatures. Each basic land produces a different type of mana, such as red, blue, green, black, or white. Some more advanced lands may produce multiple colours, or even have other functions.

  • Creatures: These cards represent creatures that can be summoned to attack your opponent. Each creature has its own power and toughness, which determines how much damage it can deal and how much damage it can withstand. Creatures may be normal or Legendary, and they have types that can have outstanding synergy with other cards of the same type.

  • Spells: These cards can be used to deal damage, destroy creatures, draw cards, and more. There are several different types of spells, including instants, sorceries, and enchantments. Sorceries can only be cast during your turn, during your main phase. Instants can be played any time you have priority on any turn. Enchantments can only be played during your turn, during your main phase, BUT they stay on the board and have a lasting effect.

The Colors of Magic

There are five different colors of magic in Magic The Gathering, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. Here is a brief overview of each color:

  • Red: Red cards are known for their aggressive nature and ability to directly damage opponents.

  • Blue: Blue cards are known for their control abilities, allowing players to counter spells and manipulate the battlefield.

  • Green: Green cards are known for their creature strength and the ability to ramp up mana quickly.

  • Black: Black cards are known for their ability to destroy creatures and force opponents to discard cards.

  • White: White cards are known for their defensive abilities, such as protecting creatures and gaining life.

Understanding the basics of Magic: The Gathering is essential for any DnD player looking to get into the game. With a little practice and knowledge gained, anyone can become a skilled Magic player.

Transitioning from Dungeons and Dragons to Magic The Gathering

If you're a DnD player looking to try out MTG, you may be wondering how to make the transition. While the two games share some similarities, there are also some key differences that you'll need to be aware of. Let’s take a look at some of the main differences between DnD and MTG, and provide some tips for transitioning smoothly.

Comparing Game Mechanics

One of the biggest differences between DnD and MTG is the game mechanics. DnD is a role-playing game that relies heavily on storytelling and character development, while MTG is a collectible card game that focuses on strategy and deck building.

In DnD, players take turns describing their actions and rolling dice to determine the outcome. Combat is resolved through a combination of dice rolls and character abilities. In MTG, players take turns playing cards from their hand and trying to reduce their opponent's life total to zero. In this way creatures on the MTG board are similar to a Dungeons and Dragons character in that they may have different abilities, can deal damage, and can be killed.

To make the transition from DnD to MTG it's important to understand the basic game mechanics including the different card types, how turns work, and how combat is resolved. You'll also need to learn how to build a deck and how to choose cards that work well together.

Role-Playing Elements in MTG

While MTG is primarily a strategy game, there are some role-playing elements that can make it more engaging for D&D players. For example, each card in MTG has its own flavour text, which provides a brief description of the card's backstory or flavour.

In addition, some MTG sets are based on popular fantasy worlds, such as Ravnica or Innistrad. These sets often have their own unique mechanics and flavour, which can make them more appealing to DnD players.

To make the most of the role-playing elements in MTG, you can choose cards that fit your personality or playstyle. You could build a deck around specific creature types, or planeswalkers, another powerful card type in MTG that very much have their own themes and stories.

You can try to create a deck that has a specific theme. You’ll often run into these kinds of decks and hear them called things like burn decks (directly damage your opponent without attacking,) mill decks (win by making your opponent put all of their deck directly into their graveyard so they have no cards left to draw,) or discard decks (making your opponent discard their hand and keeping their hand to a minimum.) Goblin decks, Elf decks, and Dragons are common creature type themes.

Transitioning from DnD to MTG can be a fun and rewarding experience. By understanding the differences between the two games and focusing on the elements that appeal to you, you can quickly become a skilled MTG player.

MTG Commander Legends: D&D Battle for Baldur’s Gate

In 2022 Magic: the Gathering released a crossover set with Dungeons and Dragons that was Baldur’s Gate themed. With how recent the set is this would be a great set for a DnD player to pick up and learn MTG since they may recognize some of the characters that made their way onto cardboard!

Starting with a Preconstructed Deck

When starting out with Magic: The Gathering, it can be overwhelming to try and build a deck from scratch. That's why many new players opt to purchase preconstructed decks. These decks come ready to play right out of the box, and can be a great way to learn the game and get a feel for different playstyles.

There are a few different types of preconstructed decks available, including starter decks, 60-card decks, and commander decks. Starter decks are designed specifically for new players and come with basic cards and instructions on how to play. 60-card decks are a bit more advanced and come with a specific theme or strategy in mind. Commander decks are designed for multiplayer games and come with a legendary creature as the commander of the deck.

When choosing a preconstructed deck, it's important to consider your play style and what type of deck you enjoy playing. If you're new to the game, a starter deck is a great place to begin. These decks are designed to be simple and easy to understand, which can be helpful when learning the basics of the game. Many new starter decks also come with a code that allows you to add that starter deck to the online format Arena, and play against other players using your phone or computer.

Remember what the general themes of the colours are, and you can usually glean a good idea of what a deck may do simply based on the colours. This can help narrow down your pre-con choices when you’re in the store or ordering online looking at what’s available.

If you're looking for something a bit more advanced, a 60-card deck might be a better option. These decks come with a specific strategy in mind and can be a great way to learn how to build a deck around a particular theme or mechanic.

Once you get the hang of your deck, you can start buying single cards or booster packs to change out cards and improve the deck. Most Magic tournaments are also 60-card deck formats, so learning them may allow you to be more socially involved in Magic.

Finally, if you're interested in playing multiplayer games, a commander deck might be the way to go. These decks are designed specifically for multiplayer games and come with a legendary creature as the commander of the deck. Commander decks also come with a specific theme or strategy in mind, which can make them a fun and challenging way to play the game. Commander also has some changes to the basic rules, such as 99 card decks with only 1 of each card, plus the commander.

Starting with a preconstructed deck is a great way to learn the game and get a feel for different playstyles. Whether you choose a starter deck, a 60-card pre-con deck, or a commander deck, there's sure to be a preconstructed deck out there that suits your playstyle and interests.

Building Your First Deck

When it comes to building your first Magic: The Gathering deck, there are a few things to keep in mind. In this section, we’ll discuss how to choose a deck theme and balance your deck.

Choosing a Deck Theme

The first step in building your deck is to choose a theme. This will determine the overall strategy and playstyle of your deck. There are many different themes to choose from, such as aggro, control, and combo.

Aggro decks aim to win quickly by dealing damage as fast as possible. Control decks focus on denying your opponent's resources and controlling the board. Combo decks aim to win by combining specific cards or abilities.

When choosing a theme, consider your playstyle and the cards you have available. It's essential to have a clear vision of what you want your deck to do.

Balancing Your Deck

Once you've chosen a theme, it's time to balance your deck. This means finding the right mix of cards to ensure your deck is consistent and effective.

60 card deck formats allow no more than four copies of any one card (unless it's a basic land or specifically says differently on the card). You should aim for a balance of spells and creatures that fit your theme. If you aim to beat your opponent by burning them, you’ll have more spells than creatures (possibly all spells.) If you’re basing your deck around creatures and attacking your opponent, you’ll have many creatures and then spells that support them.

When building your deck, consider the mana curve. This refers to the distribution of cards based on their mana cost. You want to have a good mix of low-cost, medium-cost, and high-cost cards to ensure you can play something every turn, and that it’s appropriate for that stage in the game.

Another important factor is colour balance. If you're playing a multicolour deck, make sure you have enough of each colour mana to cast your spells consistently.

Overall, building your first Magic: The Gathering deck can be a fun and rewarding experience. By choosing a theme and balancing your deck, you can create a deck that's uniquely yours.

For a more in depth guide to building your first deck check out this write-up over at MonoColorMagic.

Gameplay Basics

Turn Structure

In Magic: The Gathering, each player takes turns playing cards, attacking, and using abilities. A turn consists of the following phases:

Beginning Phase: This is where you untap all of your cards, draw a card from your deck, and complete any other beginning of turn effects.

Main Phase 1: During this phase, you can play creatures, spells, and other cards from your hand. You can also use any abilities your cards may have.

Combat Phase: This is where you can attack with your creatures and defend against your opponent's attacks. More on this in the next section.

Main Phase 2: Another main phase where you can play more cards from your hand and use abilities.

End Phase: In this phase you discard any cards over 7 that you have left in your hand, heal your creatures that took non-lethal damage back to full health, and complete any end-of-turn effects. Combat Phase During the combat phase the active player can choose to attack with their creatures. Their opponent can then choose to block with their own creatures. If a creature is blocked, it deals damage to the creature blocking it, and the blocking creature deals damage back. If a creature is not blocked, it deals damage directly to the opponent or the planeswalker that was attacked.

Using Spells and Abilities

Spells and abilities have 2 speeds, instant speed, or sorcery speed. Sorceries and abilities that say activate as a sorcery can only be used during either Main Phase 1 or Main Phase 2 of your own turn. Instants and most abilities can be used any time you get priority on any turn. Some spells and abilities can only be used at specific times, so be sure to read the card carefully. To use a spell or ability, you usually need to pay a certain amount of mana, or tap the card. Mana is generated by tapping lands you have on the battlefield.

That's a brief overview of the basic gameplay mechanics of Magic: The Gathering. With practice, you'll learn more advanced strategies and become a skilled player.

What are the different MTG formats and how do they differ?

When it comes to playing MTG, there are several different formats to choose from. Each format has its own unique rules and restrictions, which can greatly impact the way the game is played. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular MTG formats and their key differences.


Standard is one of the most popular MTG formats, especially for tournaments, and it can be accessible for new players. In this format, players can only use cards from the most recent sets released by Wizards of the Coast. This means that the card pool is constantly changing, and players need to stay up-to-date with the latest sets in order to remain competitive.

Standard decks consist of 60 cards. Up to 4 copies of any specific non-basic land card (4 is also referred to as a playset in Magic for this reason,) can be used. A 15 card sideboard can be used to move situational cards into your deck between rounds.


Modern can be both a more advanced MTG format and a more casual format. Again it is the 60 cards, no more than 4 of any 1 card, and a sideboard rule. However, it allows players to use cards from a much larger pool. In this format, players can use any card that has been printed in a standard-legal set (and a few not like the recent Lord of the Rings set,) since 8th Edition released in 2003. This means that players have access to a wide variety of powerful cards, but it also means that the format can be quite expensive to compete in tournaments.

Many casual playgroups will play a lot of Modern when they play 60 card deck games, because it allows using more of a player’s collection, older decks, and more combos than Standard.

Commander (EDH)

Commander, also known as EDH (Elder Dragon Highlander), is a unique MTG format that emphasizes creativity and social interaction. In this format, players build decks around a legendary creature, known as the "Commander," and can only use cards that share a color identity with the Commander. This format is known for its large multiplayer games and its focus on politics and diplomacy.

Commander decks consist of 1 commander, and 99 supporting cards in the library. However, only one of each card is allowed in a commander deck. This makes commander a bit more random than a finely tuned 60 card deck with playsets of several cards that you can expect to draw every game.

Booster Draft

Booster Draft is a popular MTG format that is often played at local game stores and events. In this format, each player received 3 booster packs. Players each open a booster pack of cards, select one card, and then pass the remaining cards to the player next to them. This process continues until all the cards have been selected, Then the next pack is opened and proceeds the same way. Players then use the cards they have drafted to build a 40 card deck and compete against each other.

Other Formats

In addition to the formats listed above, there are many other MTG formats that are played by players around the world. Some of these formats include Legacy, Vintage, Pauper, and Cube Draft. Each of these formats has its own unique rules and restrictions, and they can be a great way to mix things up and try something new in the world of MTG.

For the most up to date rules around all sanctioned formats, visit the Wizards of the Coast website. Yes, the same Wizards of the Coast that creates Dungeons and Dragons books and supplies!

Advanced Strategies

Understanding the Meta

To excel in Magic the Gathering, it's essential to understand the game's meta. Meta refers to the most popular decks that players are using in tournaments and competitions. Knowing the meta will help us prepare our decks to counter these popular strategies. You could even call the decks you repeatedly run into in your casual playgroup your personal meta.

The best way to understand the meta is by researching and analyzing the top-performing decks in recent tournaments. We can use websites like MTGGoldfish and MTGTop8 to gather information about the meta. These websites provide us with data on the most popular decks, their win rates, and the cards they use.

Another way to understand the meta is by playing in local tournaments or attending events. Most local game stores hope at least a Friday Night Magic event weekly. By observing the decks that other players are using, we can gain valuable insights into the current meta. We can also ask other players about their strategies and card choices to learn more about the meta.

Sideboarding Strategies

Sideboarding is an essential part of playing Magic the Gathering at a competitive level. Sideboarding refers to the practice of swapping out cards in our deck between games to better counter our opponent's strategy.

To sideboard effectively, we must understand our opponent's deck and their strategy. We can use the knowledge we gained from understanding the meta to predict the cards our opponent might use. We can also observe their gameplay and take note of the cards they play to gain insights into their strategy.

When sideboarding, we should focus on removing cards that are weak against our opponent's strategy and adding cards that counter their strategy. It's also essential to maintain a balance between our deck's overall strategy and our sideboard choices. We don't want to change our deck's strategy entirely, but we want to make it more effective against our opponent.

Understanding the meta and sideboarding strategies are crucial for advanced players in Magic the Gathering. By analyzing the meta and sideboarding effectively, we can gain an edge over our opponents and increase our chances of winning.

Joining the MTG Community

If you're interested in playing Magic: The Gathering with more than just your family and friends, joining the community is an important step in your journey. You can visit your local game store, or explore online platforms.

Local Game Stores

Local game stores (LGS) are a great place to meet other MTG players in your area. You can find LGSs by searching online or asking other players. Once you find an LGS, visit during their MTG events to meet new people and play games. Recently LGSs have become the main source of competition in Magic: the Gathering. Large tournaments with convention venues and hundreds of players have largely been replaced by smaller tournaments at local game stores. At an LGS, you can participate in casual games or join tournaments. You can also buy cards and supplies, get advice from experienced players, and learn more about the game. If you’ve become familiar with your cards and can gauge value, don’t forget your trade binder!

Online Platforms

If you prefer to play from the comfort of your own home, online platforms are a great option. There are several platforms available, including:

  • MTG Arena: A free-to-play digital version of MTG that allows you to play against other players online. In-app purchases are available to enhance your decks.

  • Magic: the Gathering Online (MTGO): A digital version of MTG that allows you to play against other players online. This platform requires you to purchase cards and pay for events. It does offer regular competitive play for those looking for tournaments without leaving home!

  • Facebook: Facebook has a plethora of groups dedicated to Magic. Everything from beginners to format specific, and for buy/sell/trade. There are even Facebook groups where you can sell misprinted cards, or have an expensive card checked to make sure it’s authentic.

  • Discord: A chat platform where you can join MTG communities and find other players to play with.

  • Youtube: There are some great Youtube channels dedicated to Magic, such as Tolarian Community College, that will help you learn the game from beginner through advanced strategies.

Online platforms are a great way to learn, practice, and improve your skills, and they allow you to play with people from all over the world.

No matter which option you choose, joining the MTG community is a great way to meet new people and have fun playing the game.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are recommended beginner decks for Magic: the Gathering?

For those just starting out with Magic: The Gathering, we recommend starting with preconstructed decks. These decks are designed to be balanced and easy to play, making them a great way to learn the game. Some popular options include the Challenger Decks and Planeswalker Decks.

For a beginner building their own deck for the first time, we recommend mono color decks. For more information on building a beginner mono color deck, check out this write up at

What are the major online Magic: The Gathering resources?

There are several online resources that can help you improve your Magic: The Gathering skills. Some popular options include MTGGoldfish, Channel Fireball, and Star City Games. You can also find helpful articles and videos on websites like Reddit and YouTube. For buying and selling Magic cards online take a look at TCGPlayer and Card Kingdom.

How many cards are in a Magic: The Gathering deck?

With all of the different ways to play magic, this is really an “it depends” answer. A standard format or modern format (and some other formats) Magic: The Gathering deck must have a minimum of 60 cards. A commander deck is 99 cards in the library plus a commander for a total of 100. A booster draft deck is at least 40 cards. In most cases, you’ll want to make more than ⅓ of the deck mana producing lands.

How many land cards are in a Magic: the Gathering deck?

The basic rule for how many land belong in a deck is generally 35%-40%. Most decks will be higher than 30%, but some builds will allow less. If you’re building new decks you can start around that 35% mark and test, adjust as needed.

A normal amount for a 60 card deck is in the neighborhood of 24 land cards. In commander format you’ll commonly see about 35 lands. One format that you’ll almost always want to be a little bit higher is 40 card limited, such as booster draft. A draft deck will generally have around 17 to 18 land cards, more in a 40%-45% range.

What are some tips for beginners playing Magic: The Gathering Arena?

If you're new to Magic: The Gathering Arena, we recommend starting with the tutorial to learn the basics. From there, you can play against the computer or other players to improve your skills. It's also a good idea to watch replays of your matches to see where you can improve.

What are some good resources for learning Magic: The Gathering rules and strategies?

If you're looking to learn more about Magic: The Gathering's rules and strategies, we recommend checking out the official Magic: The Gathering website. You can also find the basic rulebook online. There are helpful articles and videos on many websites like MTGGoldfish and Channel Fireball (named after a classic MTG combo.) Additionally, many game stores offer beginner-friendly events and workshops, sometimes even free cards!

All information contained in this article is unofficial Fan Content permitted under the Fan Content Policy. Not approved/endorsed by Wizards. Portions of the materials used are property of Wizards of the Coast. © Wizards of the Coast LLC. All cards pictured and symbols are copyright and trademarks of Wizards of the Coast LLC.

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