Sylvan Tutor: How Read Cards

In this series of articles we will be going over the various rules of Magic: the Gathering, in an attempt to both, teach new players the game, and help keep existing players up to date on possible rule changes. In these first few articles we will be going over the basics, so veteran players may want to skip ahead. Today’s subject may be the most important one of all: how to read a card. Although this article in particular won’t cover what the cards can do, being able to properly read a card will be important for future lessons.

The first thing you should do when looking at a card is find out what type it is. You can do this by looking at the cards type line. The type line is a horizontal bar positioned under the art as shown here. The first word in the type line is the cards’s type, this will be one of seven types including: Land, Instant, Sorcery, Creature, Planeswalker, Artifact, and Enchantment. Some cards may have one or more of these types, but typically it will have just a single type.

Next, you may see a subtype after the initial type. Not all cards have a subtype, but it is used to distinguish cards further from others in their catagory. This is mainly used in creature cards to state a creatures race such as goblin, elf, or dragon, and after that they may have a second subtype like warrior or wizard, to distinguish them further from other members of their race.

Some cards also have a supertype. The two supertype’s you are most likely to see are basic and legendary. Basic is a supertype for lands. This on its own doesn’t mean much but may be looked for by other cards. Legendary cards on the other hand are special. They depict a specific creature or item of note, and because of this, you are not allowed to have duplicates of the same legendary permanent in play at the same time (but we’ll go more into things like this in a later article).

Now that you know what type of cards you have, let’s get into how you actually use them.

The first and most important part to almost every deck is it’s lands. Lands produce mana that you will need to cast most spells. While there are many specialized lands that have more complex effects, in this article we will be covering the lands you will see most often, basic lands. The five basic lands are Plains, Island, Swamp, Mountain, and Forest. These five lands will produce a different color of mana when tapped, white, blue, black red, and green respectively.

Now that you have various colors of mana what can you do with it?

Almost every non-land card will have a mana cost in the top right corner. This will be in the form of either color coded symbols, a gray circle with a number in it, or both. For each colored mana symbol in a cards cost, you must tap a land that produces the same color. For example if you wanted to cast a Raging Goblin you will need to use one red mana producing land: mountain).

If the card you want to play includes a gray circle with a number in it, then you can use any color of mana as long as you have the right amount. So if you wanted to cast Glacial Wall, you need one blue mana, but the other two mana can be of any color.

Now that we’ve gone into the basics that most cards will have, let’s look at the types individually to see how they work.


A creature spell summons a creature to aid you in battle. Whether you are using them to attack your opponent, defend yourself, or you want them for their unique abilities creatures are an important part of many decks. In the bottom right corner of a creature card should be it’s power and toughness. This will be in the form of two numbers separated by a slash.

For example Runeclaw bear has a power and toughness of 2/2. This means that during combat it will deal two damage, and will be destroyed if they take more than two damage.

Another important thing to note is a creatures abilities. These will be located here:

This will tell you any special effects your creature may have. Some common ones like trample, flying, reach, haste, first strike, and double strike won’t have a description for the effect saying what they do, so you will need to remember them as they show up often. Most of these ability will be based on combat, which will be covered in the next article

Trample: If a creature with trample would deal enough damage to the creature blocking it to destroy it, you may deal any access damage to the blocking player or a Planeswalker they control.

Flying: This creature cannot be blocked, except by creatures with flying or reach.

Reach: This creature can block creatures with flying.

Haste: This creature is unaffected by summoning sickness (more on what that is in the next article).

First Strike: While in combat, this creatures damage happens first, possibly killing on other creatures before they can retaliate.

Double Strike: This creature deals first strike damage and normal damage.

Instants & Sorcerers

The difference between instants and sorceries will be looked at in thr next article, but for now thino of them as thr same. These cards are much easier to explain, but much harder to understand. When you cast an instant or sorceryall you have to do is read what the card says and so it. Simple right! Well not really because cards can have varying effects from bringing things back from the dead, or taking extra turns. While it may be confusing at times just remember, reading the card explains the card.

Artifacts & Enchantments

While these cards can be very different in effect, the way that you use them is the same. They are a spell that stays in play and they will either have an effect that is always active, or send type of effect that you can activate for a cost. There are many artifacts and enchantments that can attach the creatures, to give them advantages or disadvantages and here is where a key difference between the tow lies. If a creature equipped with an artifact dies, the artifact may he reattached to another creature, but if an enchanted creature dies, the enchantment is lost too. Again, there isn’t much to explain on a broad scale, so you will have to read the card to figure out what it does.

Now that you know how to read cards, our next Sylvan Tutor article will go over the rules and basic game play, so take a look at that if that is something you are interested in.

As always, if you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please feel free to say something in the comments section below.



Sylvan Studies Team

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