Magic: The Gathering® Explained

© Karen Newis ( and Jared Earle (

What is it?

Extract from "The Sword in the Stone", ©The Walt Disney Company

Magic is a card game which allows the wizards (players) to test out their spell books (decks) against each other, just like the duel Merlin and Madame Mim have in The Sword in the Stone.

Each player takes the part of a wizard, and uses a deck of cards to represent the wizard's spell book.

Each player uses a deck constructed of around 60 cards from a pool of over 1400 possible cards.

Because of the random nature of the cards used in play, the game is always different, always new. Each game is likely to introduce the player to cards he/she has not seen before, so the player is constantly learning, absorbing new aspects of game play.

Some cards represent spells or powers, while others represent the land (mana) which makes the spell or power happen. Like an electronic game machine needs batteries to run, the spell cards need land (mana) to run. Each card is different, the text on the card tells the player what it does and how and when to use it. Reading through the rule book once will give players an understanding of the basic game, and is highly recommended.

The winner is the first player to reduce his/her opponent to zero points, both players start with 20 each.


The Learning Opportunities

In a typical game, each player will use varying skills and abilities of his/her own while deciding which card to use, as chess players do when deciding which piece to move. Naturally, through practise these skills are improved. Indeed, we know of many families who have written to us, to tell us of their children overcoming various learning difficulties through playing Magic.

In deck-building, where each player selects which cards will go into the deck from his/her total pool, care must be taken. Cards chosen to go well together will form a more effective deck than simple random selection. Making the choice of which cards to combine involves not only maths, but also an awareness of resource management - some spells are more expensive than others, needing more land (mana) cards. The player must decide on a balance of cards to create the deck. Naturally new players will have a limited card pool and will probably be restricted in the positive choices they can make at first. To reach a greater card pool, to build more effective decks, many players trade cards with one another, in much the same way as football cards or stickers are traded. This builds the player's communication and negotiating skills, enhancing self image and confidence. As in any trading situation, the player needs an awareness of the value of their own 'goods' as well as those with whom they are trading. Further, they must be able to decide which 'goods' they are prepared to part with and for what 'price'. When trading marbles a child may well declare a "steelie" to be worth "four glassies", similarly Magic players have been heard to declare a "rare card" to be worth "3 Uncommons" or "11 Commons". The imagery and setting used in the game and depicted through lavish artwork is, in and of itself fascinating to the players. It is a gateway into a land of fabulous tales, and has given rise to associated fiction detailing the stories behind some of the more interesting characters depicted on the cards. This has proven to be invaluable to parents and teachers in encouraging children to read more. In conclusion, it is perhaps not surprising that a game designed for fun has been deemed worthy of recognition by MENSA, who named Magic one of the top five mind games in 1994. As a learning tool, teachers and parents alike appreciate a game which is thoroughly acceptable and fascinating for children, and in no way suffers from being "obviously" an educational game. As a means to increase family and generation-gap spanning communication, the letters we receive are testimony to the ability of the game to encourage interaction and enhance relationships.


In short, this game is good. It's good fun to play, and it's a good education opportunity for the players.