Saturday, July 18, 2009

First Level Magic: Learning the Rules

So you have taken the road of a Magic the Gathering player. Hopefully you have embraced my last article, and have begun making investments in the game, to provide yourself with the resources you will need. Now we take on what may be the biggest challenge to playing the game. Now you need to learn the rules.

The Comprehensive rules document, is a huge chunk of work. Containing not only everything thing you ever need to know about the hows and when, but also a tun of stuff you will probably never need to know. Learning the rules is going to represent a a significant investment of your time and intellect, but it isn't insurmountable task that it may first appear.

The trick is to start some place, and just move through it at your own pace. For some players this pace has taken months, years, or decades. In my opinion the best place to start is the rules guide that comes with product. My reasons here are simple, it prevents you from getting bogged down on things you won't put to use very often. So this begs the question "What do you need to know" ?

To be a magic player you at least need to understand the basic of the rules. No one expects you to pass your rules advisor test, or Judge Certification the first week, or to even know that there are such things, but other players will expect you to either understand, or quickly catch on to a few things. If you have note already done so, I recommend reading the basic rules.

1. Parts of the Turn, and when you can do different things. Untap, upkeep, draw, main1, combat, main2, end. The best source of information for this may be an insert which came with your first product purchase, the Floor Rules (section five). Magic the Gathering is a strategy game above all else, and one can not make good strategic decisions, with out understanding the timing of events.

2. Card Types, and what makes them different. Land, Creature, Sorcery, Instant, Enchantment, Planeswalker. Your rules insert, and basic rules will give you the fundamentals. Once you have this begin to expand you knowledge with use of the Floor Rules (section three).

3. How to read a card. Name, casting cost, type, effect, power/toughness etc. Here again, your rules insert, or basic rules can be used as a jumping off point, and the Floor Rules (section two) can be used to further sharpen your understanding.

4. Lastly, you need to understand what the card does. Obviously start by learning your own cards. It's one thing not to have heard of some older/obscure card you opponent plays, but not knowing how your own cards work is fairly in excusable. If you have cards you don't understand, try not to play them until you do. If your skills thus far, and the cards reminder text are not enough, try using one of the many card databases that exist on the web. Wizards of the Coasts own Gather is as close to canon as it gets. Be sure to understand that cards can change over time, so be sure to understand the Oracle rulings, so you are up to date. Once you know what your own cards do, begin to expand you card knowledge to other sets. You can always play around with Gather, and the Floor Rules (section 7-02), to learn about what ever cards, sets or abilities strike your fancy, but I recommend working through the cards with the following plan of attack. If you don't know what these terms mean, use Basic Rules (section four) for clarification.

A. Most recent Core Set (M2010 at the time of this writing, but is expected to change in October 2010).
B. Most recent Block (Currently Shards of Alara, Conflux, and Alara Reborn. Expected to change October 2009).
C. Standard card pool (Includes the above cards, plus the second most recent block).
D. Extended card pool (Includes all the above cards, plus the 5 next most recent blocks, and their associated core sets).
E. The Legacy/Vintage card pools. (Includes very nearly every Magic the Gathering card ever printed).

Hopefully you see how this plan of attack is intended to build on itself, preparing you for an ever increasing field of competitive/casual events. As you take on a new group or level of play, it is also important to be familiar with the banned and restricted lists for that level of play, but they only become really important if you are considering a competitive event.

Learning the rules is important, but it doesn't have to be a job, just invest your time and effort with purpose, and you will be surprised just how much you can learn and how quickly you understanding will build. Back in my day the complete rules was literally a tiny book, about the same size as a stack of 15 cards, and you carried it around in your pocket. Today, technology allows people to carry much more information around in a variety of convenient ways. Just find something that works for you. It is also important not to underestimate the value of your greatest learning resource, the people around you. If you don't have other Magic players around you, that is something we are going to have to change, and will be the next topic we take on in this series.

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