Iíve been playing Magic since the Summer of í94, when The Dark came out.  This was up in Chicago, and you could still get cards from previous sets, including Unlimited.  So yes, I have all the Moxes, a Black Lotus, and complete sets from Arabian Nights to Fallen Empires.  In a Type I format, Iím all but unstoppable.  Thatís right, baby: your Kung Fu is no match for my Kung Fu.  I am the Alpha and the Omega.  As for Type II (ie: shit in print)... well,,,  who cares?!?  Wizards of the Coast hasnít put out a good card set since Ice Ages, and all my old cards will soundly defeat any new cards.  I used to win open format tourneys regularly where all the other players just had new cards from Tempest/Exodus sets, so Iíve seen this brag proven.  Iíve since retired but still play for fun.  I will have nothing to do with new cards, and subsequent rules there-of.  I havenít seen a rule book since 4th Edition.  I understand they have gotten rid of things like ďmana burnĒ and ďinterruptsĒ.  I care not.  To be honest, I donít even know what cards are still in print.

In other words, this guide is written from that Old School point of view.  Enough people have asked me to teach them to play (or play better) that Iíve made this.  Itís written from a veteran viewpoint, though I have made a somewhat futile attempt to upgrade it to a relatively new format.

Hopefully it is still of some use.








How to Win


        Inflict 20+ points of damage before your opponent can do the same.

99 out of 100 games are won this way.   The 1 time in 100 you will win or lose if someone:

        Completely draws their deck

        Has 10 poison counters


     Notices your deck is 10 Chaos Orbs, 10 Channels, 10 Fireballs , and 10 Lightning Bolts and demands a broken deck forfeit.




Building a Basic General Purpose Deck



  two colors plus a few artifacts (or not)

Why not three or more colors?  With the current card rotation, running multi-color decks is rather difficult.  One of the worst things is to have a hand of all red cards and no mountains out, or be short that one extra red in the casting cost you need.  Donít be that guyIf you are going to try to do a 3 or more color deck, I recommend that you use cards that have only one color component in the casting.  In other words, something that costs G3 is okay, but GG2 is going to be harder to play. 

I also recommend against single-color decks, as these can be easily shut down with a simple color hoser.  For instance, if you are playing an all black deck, cards like Circle of Protection: Black or White Knight will ruin you.

As a rule of thumb, though, sticking to two color decks will give you a good mana balance and allow for a focused deck.  Choose two colors that complement each other, and whose strengths make up for the otherís weakness.



first color 

second color


creatures  10 10 20
spells  10 10 20
land 10 10 20

         60 total


Substitute artifacts or gold 1 for 1 (ie: 9 creatures, 9 spells, 2 artifacts)  

60 cards is suggested, adjust proportionately (ie: 12 creatures, 6 spells, 9 land.)   60 is a good number, though.   Remember: the more cards in your deck, the more you must wade through to get to what you really need.  If you have more than 80, donít expect to win except by luck.


every deck should have:


       The Plan    Do you know how your deck is going to win?   If you donít, then your deck wonít.   When making your deck, ask yourself how each card you put in is going to contribute to The Plan.   Donít just throw it in because itís a cool card.   (The most common beginning and intermediate Plans are listed in ďPlots & SubplotsĒ)

      a back-up strategy that complements it    Because even the best of Plans can be laid to waste (or Counterspelled.)

       ability to generate 20+ points of damage by turn 10    Youíd be surprised how often this is overlooked: in adding cards to create a certain effect or contribute to The Plan, you forget the object is to deal 20 damage.   Turn 10 is a good goal, because by then your opponent should be situated and ready to kill you.

       ways to draw extra cards    Almost without fail, whoever sees the most of their deck wins.   The more access you have to your library, the more options you have.  THIS IS THE BIGGEST SECRET OF THE GAME!

       ways to gain life    Those 20 points adds up fast, and you donít get them back unless you plan ahead.

       access to your graveyard    This is where all your best cards tend to end up, whether they are one-shot wonders or put there by your opponent.  Recycle Recycle Recycle!

       ways to deal with your opponentís cards    Your opponent is trying to do to you what you are doing to him, so make sure you beat him to the punch!  The most important thing you want is ways to destroy (or otherwise neutralize) his creatures.  However, you should definitely have cards to deal with his enchantments and artifacts, and ideally you should have things to stop his sorceries, instants, and interrupts.  And yes, it is also good to have a way to deal with land, because there are so many lands that do more than just produce mana.

         good mana juju     Mana balance is a Zen-like art that is often hard to accomplish.  Too much or too little will lose you the game. Of the two, it is better to have too much mana than not enough, because otherwise you end up discarding your cards because you canít play them.  As a rule of thumb you should have 1 land for every 2 cards that have a casting cost.   If you have a lot of expensive-to-cast cards, you should have extra sources of mana in your deck other than land (this is good policy anyway.)   Wise players know that a deck should be 1/3 land, but closer to Ĺ mana. Mana is good, make mana your friend.   As a rule of thumb, you want to have three sources of mana out by turn three, and five out by turn five.


Make sure all your cards like each other and play well together.   For instance, donít put a Meekstone in a deck full of 4/4 creatures.

A common mistake among both new players and vets is quantity overkill.  Just because you have 4 Control Magics doesnít mean you should put them all in your deck.

Donít call up what you canít put down!  There are lots of cards that steal/change control of your permanents, especially creatures and artifacts.  If you have a kick-ass critter and your opponent does something to gain control of it, do you have a way to make it go away?

Know your deckís strengths and weaknesses.   If you were to build another deck specifically to beat your deck, what strategies or specific cards would bring you to your knees?   How is your deck prepared for these strategies or cards?   Look over the deck strategies I have included (ďPlots & Sub-PlotsĒ) and ask yourself, how will my deck do against each of these?




Shades and Staples


(note: cards mentioned here are only those that have been in the basic set at one point, and are limited to $10 value)


 White:   If you like to stay alive, this is the suit for you.   More defensive than offensive, White gives life, not takes it away.  

Strengths: very versatile and great to keep you alive.   

Weaknesses: no big creatures, and many of the cards also help your opponent.   Usually a better support suit than primary

Best Creature:  Serra Angel

Best SpellDisenchant

Out of Print worth getting:  Balance, Land Tax, Swords to Plowshares


Blue:   A subtle suit that influences the game in subtle ways, almost always to your benefit. Takes the longest to learn to play properly, but when mastered is the strongest suit.   

Strengths: superior card drawing and the definitive Counterspell suit. 

Weaknesses: has few cards that deal with permanents: if something slips by a Counterspell, youíre in trouble.   Blue also takes the most finesse and forethought.

Best Creature: Prodigal Sorcerer

Best Spell: Counterspell  

Out of Print worth gettingnone you can afford!


Black:  Blueís evil twin. Excellent for subterfuge and unconventional paths to victory, but can also slug it out with the best of íem.   Guaranteed to bring out the De Sade in you, but if you donít kill me on turn 5, youíll kill yourself on turn 10.  Live on the edge, die during your upkeep.   

Strengths: Black has a vast array of cards designed to make your opponentís life miserable.   Also, the grim satisfaction that not only did you survive your enemy, you survived your own cards as well.   

Weaknesses: Frequently, the cards hurt you as much as they hurt your opponent.  Black has limited ways to get rid of artifacts and no ways to get rid of enchantments.   Also, once you start losing, expect the trend to continue.   Very much a kamikaze color.

Best Creature:  Hypnotic Spectre

Best Spells:  Dark Ritual, Pestilence, Terror, Drain Life

Out of Print worth getting: Demonic Tutor, Mind Twist, Sengir Vampire


Red:  Brute force incarnate and the Chaos suit.   Largest selection of creatures in downtown Dominara.   Also home of the direct damage.   Insist your opponent bring a mop for the carnage.   

Strengths:   surprisingly versatile: not only can it kill in a wide variety of ways, it can deal with anything your opponent throws at you except enchantments. 

Weaknesses: as with black, has no way to gain life, so once you start losing life, you had better act fast.   Besides, direct damage is cheesy.

Best Creature:  Shivan Dragon

Best Spell:  Fireball, Disintegrate

Out of Print worth getting:  Lightning Bolt, Wheel of Fortune


Green:   Lots of mana and enchantments (these are enchanted forestsóget it?)   Very versatile, with good offense and defense.   

Strengths: excellent for fast mana, and probably the most well-rounded suit.   Does nothing great, but does everything well.   

Weaknesses: does nothing great, and most of what it does well can be done better by other cards in other colors.

Best Creature:  Birds of Paradise

Best Spells:  Giant Growth, Sylvan Library

Out of Print worth getting:  Regrowth


Artifacts:   These toys are the true wildcards.   They can be cast with any color mana, automatically fitting into any deck.   No matter what your Plan is, there is an artifact out there for you (usually out of print, of course...)

Strengths: artifacts work with colorless mana, so they will fit into any deck.  Also, they are somewhat hard to get rid of, as only cards that specifically target artifacts will affect them.  (Artifact creatures, on the other hand, are much more fragile.)

Weaknesses:  Most artifacts require mana to do something, usually one or two more than a color spell that would do something comparable.  This is a big drain on resources.

Best creature:  Juggernaut

Best card: (I do not know what artifacts are currently in print.)  

Out of Print worth getting Sol Ring, Ivory Tower, Black Vise



Land:   Many do more than just produce mana, and are well-worth looking into.

Strengths:  Cannot be countered, and can only be destroyed by cards that specifically deal with them.

Weaknesses:  Using a land for something other than mana deprives you of mana.

Best Creature:  Mishraís Factory

Other good Lands:  City of Brass, Strip Mine



Plots and Sub-plots


        The majority of decks you will face will be variations on at least one of the following themes.  The two most basic (and common) deck types/strategies/ Plans are the Hoard or the Badass, or (most common) a hybrid of the two.   Thatís fine for when you start out, but you will soon find that your Plan requires more than just throwing more or bigger critters at your enemy.  The next step in the genesis is to orchestrate unconventional paths to victory.   Iíve included some intermediate strategies: Burn, Land Assassination, Hand Blast, and Permission. Try playing each of these types to see how they work.   That way you learn what you like and donít like.   More importantly, chances are excellent that someone will eventually play that type against you, so know what to expect.



            The Hoard


The Plan: swarm your opponent with cheap 1/1 creatures.

advantages: speed kills; the damage is usually geometrical and victory will be in reach by turn 5.   So simple and straightforward that it almost never fails.

disadvantages: if you get off to a slow start, youíre either dead or the game stalemates into attrition (which gets old real fast.)  This is especially annoying when itís obvious youíre still going to lose.  Perhaps worst, Hoard decks are more commonly called weenie decks, so you must suffer the humiliation of  trying to be ďweenie-ing your opponent to death.Ē

how to play: go for the quick kill: attack early and often.  With a sprinkling of support cards, you can fend off threats as they arise and swarm your opponent before he can get situated.

how to play against: Pestilence works best.   In general, Hoards are a hassle to play against, but many of their strengths can be exploited.   A Big Badass with trample will wreak havoc on a Hoardís player. If you can consistently Burn the Hoard as it arises, you keep the deck in check until you have enough mana to win with one or two d.d.ís.   Heavy Land Assassination will shut almost anything down, though Hoards are notorious for requiring little mana. Most likely youíd only slow it down, not stop it completely. Hand Blasting has little effect because a Hoard hand empties quickly anyway, and most of the cards are redundant.   However, Hand Blast staple The Rack will bring a Hoard herder to his or her knees because of this.   Permission Denied is probably the weakest defense, because there are simply too many in the Hoard to counter.

best suit: Hoards can be made in any color, but my White Weenie-a-Go-Go has the bestóand most consistentótrack record of any deck I have made: lost two games (on about turn 30) won every other on turn 5.


          Big Badass


The Plan: generate massive mana quickly and drop a huge critter into play that dominates the field.   Literally The Hoardís Big Brother.  

advantages:  A 5/3 Juggernaut on turn 1 does as much demoralization and distraction as it does damage.   This Plan generally calls for a deck that is half mana, so you will have lots of mana at almost all stages of the game.   When not casting a Big Badasss, this mana can be put to another use.

disadvantages: poor card economy.   You invest two Dark Rituals into your turn 1 Juggernaut, which I promptly Lightning Bolt.  3:1 card advantage in my favor.

How to Play:  The Plan says it all.

how to play against:  If you can deal with the Badasses as they arise, youíve got breathing room, if not the game.   Permission Denied wreaks havoc in this respect.   Depending on how mana is being generated for the Badassís, Land Assassination will have either little or crippling effect.   Likewise Hand Blasting, which again has The Rack to make life miserable for the card-costly Badass hand.   Burn is generally bad news for a Badass if you have enough mana for X to equal the Badassís toughness or half the playerís life.

best Suit: green




The Plan:  Deep fry opponent with direct damage (d.d.)

advantages:   Cuts out the middle man of dealing damage through creatures.  Simple but versatile: you choose what to kill.

disadvantages:   see below (How to play against)

How to play:  Char your opponents creatures for a while, until you get tired of that and have some mana built up.   Around turn 10, the d.d. becomes lethal.

How to play against:  Circle of Protection: Red absolutely castrates a Burn, as does a well-placed Counterspell.   A Hoard will swarm a Burn before it has time to develop, and Land Assassination keeps the X Burns down.   Fighting Fireball with Fireball (Burn vs. Burn) also works, provided you can win the race to do more damage.  Hand Blasting forces Burns to be a flash in the pan: typically a Burner will play everything as quickly as possible for fear of losing the card to a Hand Blast.  Thus the Burn is premature and not up to its full potential.

Best Suit: red (well, duh!)


          Land Assassination


The Plan: by focusing efforts on opponents land, you deprive him of mana to cast spells.

advantages: Done properly, this gives you complete control of the board.   If your opponent canít cast his cards, he canít stop you going Neanderthal on him.   At the very least, it slows down your opponentís development while yours continues.

disadvantages :   Although it hurts your opponentís resources, it does not hurt his score.   Also, must be started early, or is ineffectiveóland assassination late in the game has no effect.   Itís also annoying to be staring down an opponentís Craw Wurm and draw a Stone Rain.

How to play:  Concentrate on destroying lands early.  If you can't outright destroy them, tie them up with cards that make your opponent spend more mana to do things.  This will allow your own resources to build up.   A noticeable effect on your opponent, besides frustration, is a full hand.   Black Vise was made for this deck.   Generally, Land Assassination will not win you the game, but sets up a devastating 1-2 punch.

How to play against:  Land Tax makes a mockery of this type, unless you yourself are under the Black Vise.  Balance is also good, as it bites your opponent back.   Decks that have very low casting costs, such as Hoards, generally shrug off Land Assassination.   Permission Denied has probably the most trouble, since Islands would be a prime target.

Best suit: (tie) red and black


              Hand Blasting


The Plan:   Knock all the cards out of your opponentís hand.

advantages:   If your opponent has no cards, heís either helpless or can at best play 1 card a turn.   Hand Blasting has excellent card economy: your 1 Hymn to Tourach knocks out 2 of his cards.   If you Blast a Craw Wurm out, you wonít have to deal with it in Combat.   Also, forces opponent to play immediately (as opposed to the most opportune time) for fear of losing his hand.   One of the few strategies that is good during all stages of the game.

disadvantages:   By itself will not win you the game, but does help you set the pace and buy you time until you can win.  Also, once youíve succeeded in knocking out all of his cards, any further hand blasting you draw is essentially dead weight.

How to play:  Work your opponentís hand as much as possible as quickly as possible.   Again, best used as a means to clear the way for victory.

How to play against: Library of Leng and Land Tax are somewhat effective, and Balance Blasts back the Blaster.   Decks that have low casting costs, and thus empty quickly anyway, are a good countermeasure.   Just be sure you have a way to deal with The Rack.   Counterspells are effectively nullified: in this case, casting is equal to discarding.

Best suit: Black

Click here to check out a brutal Hand Blaster.



            Permission Denied


The Plan:  Control the playing field by countering opponentís spells and tampering with what gets through.   Also called Frustration Theory. 

advantages:  Counterspell will stop any card from being played except a land.   Causes opponent to start second-guessing and play at your pace, not his.   Frustration Theory leads to crucial mistakes.

disadvantages:   This is a slow strategy, because you do much of your playing during your opponentís turn. This deck does not act but react, and while it will keep you alive, it will not win you the game.   Also, you have to have a Counter in-hand for it to work, and have to decide on a card-by-card basis if you want to allow a spell through.   If you donít know what else your opponent is packing, you might make the wrong choice.

How to play:  patience is the key.   Parry your opponents moves and protect your own major sources of damage.

How to play against:  Any simple deck with lots of redundancies will lessen the loss of a few cards to counters.   A Hoard will overrun a Permission deck before it can get set up; also makes him wonder if its worth countering your Goblin when you may also have a Fireball.   Land Assassination and Hand Blasting also disrupt it.   Perhaps best of all, you can counter a Counterspell!

Best suit:  Blue. Actually, the only suit...




Advanced Deck Building


The above strategies only go so far, and most good players put in a little something to plan against having one of those styles used  on them.  If nothing else, moving beyond the basics helps keep the game from getting stale.

Here are a few advanced deck ideas.  

Several of these are based around power cards that create an environment.  This is some global effect that would normally make me as miserable as my opponent, but I planned around this.  For instance, The Abyss and Pestilence create a very creature-unfriendly environment, so when I use those cards, I would also use creatures with protection from black, or even forgo creatures altogether.  My "Underwear Dreams" deck is a tournament-winning deck that just makes all players draw cards like crazy, except they take massive damage from Underworld Dreams, Sudden Impact, and Black Vise.  My Chains of Megrimstopholes deck is a variation on this theme.




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