Sunday, January 30, 2011

Magic: The Gathering - Tutorial Week 11

elcome back, everyone. In the last episode we saw a few standard and quite important keywords in Magic, so read them up. In this episode we’ll finally explore the anatomy of a turn in a game of Magic. It’s going to get a bit scary, so mind your step.

The last time I remember, the turn structure looked like this:

That’s the basic appearance. You untap and draw a card during the “start of turn” phase. You can put down lands and cast any spell during your main phase. You attack during combat. And at the “end of turn” phase, certain effects go away and damage disappears. Also, you can cast instant spells during any phase because they have very little timing restrictions.

If we were to break up the phases into its subdivisions, instead of having just 5 sections like in the diagram, we’ll end up with 12 sections. We’ll look at the phases one by one, starting off with the “start of turn” phase.

All steps must be taken in the correct order, from top to bottom. Based on previous tutorials, we can guess what actions must be taken during the “untap step”. On our turn, we untap all of our tapped permanents during this step.

The “upkeep step” is entirely different and doesn’t even matter in some games. Nothing happens during the upkeep step unless a card mentions something must be done.

Ajani’s Mantra says that during your upkeep step, you gain 1 life. The upkeep step exists just for effects like this. If there are no cards that say anything about the upkeep step, then the entire step may be ignored.

During your “draw step”, you draw a card. Simple as that.

Both main phases do not have any subdivisions so we’re going to skip them and look at the combat phase

The “start of combat” step is similar to the “upkeep step”. If a card mentioned this step, then do what you have to do during it. If not, you can either ignore the step or you can mess with the opponent’s creatures using instants and card abilities before attacking or blocking.

During the “declare attackers step”, you tap which creatures you will be using to attack. After that is done, both players will have a chance to play instants and card abilities. The reverse happens on the opponent’s turn, where the opponent taps his creatures to attack you.

“Declare blockers step” is exactly the same as the “declare attackers step” except instead of tapping the attacking creatures, you indicate which creatures will be blocking. If it’s your turn, the opponent indicates which of his creatures will be blocking. Then, just like before, both players can cast instant spells and use card abilities.

During the “combat damage step”, creatures deal damage to each other, then those that die are put into their graveyards. After that, players can cast instant spells and use card abilities.

The last step of the combat phase, the “end of combat step”, is similar to the “upkeep step”. Cards that refer to this step will have you do something when the step comes. If not, you can ignore this step entirely.

Finally, the “end of turn phase”.

The “end step” is again like your “upkeep step”. If a card tells you to do something during this step, do it. If no card says so, the step can be ignored entirely.

The cleanup step is where several things happen. Damage disappears during this step. Effects that last “until end of turn” disappears as well. Some cards automatically die during the “cleanup step” so make sure to put them into your graveyard. And if you have more than seven cards in hand, you choose which cards you want to put into your graveyard. Keep in mind that your maximum hand size is seven. Anything more will have to be reduced down to seven.

Let me have a special mention dedicated to instants and card abilities. You may cast instant cards and use most card abilities during any step of any phase with two exceptions: nothing can be cast or played or used during the “untap step” and the “cleanup step”. The only thing you can do during the “untap step” is untap your cards. The only thing that you can do during the “cleanup step” has already been explained in the previous paragraph.

That was a whole bucket-load of information, I can tell. How about some demonstrations?

It is Red’s turn but he can’t cast any more spells because all his lands are tapped. He doesn’t want to attack because White’s creature is far bigger. In the end, he decides to pass the turn.

During White’s turn, he takes the steps in the correct order. First, he untaps all his cards, in this case his six lands. Then during the upkeep step, Ajani’s Mantra makes him gain 1 life so he goes up to 21 life. No other cards say anything about the upkeep step so he moves on to the draw step. He draws a card during his draw step. Then he comes to his main phase and we know that there’s a lot that can be done during the main phase, which we have explored before.

During his main phase he casts Glimmerpoint Stag.

The Stag has two abilities. The first we saw in last week’s article, vigilance. Vigilance means it doesn’t have to tap in order to attack.

The second ability is a bit more intricate. Let’s go through it.

“When Glimmerpoint Stag enters the battlefield, exile another target permanent. Return that card to the battlefield under its owner’s control at the beginning of the next end step.”

What does “exile” mean? Exile means “remove from the game”. So when the Stag enters the battlefield, another permanent card will have to be removed from the game. (It has to be another card. The Stag’s ability is written that way.) The removed card will be returned to the battlefield when the “end step” comes around.

Exile: remove a card from the game

So White says, “Hey, your Canyon Minotaur is gonna take a temporary road trip.” The Minotaur is placed far away from the battlefield, then White goes into his combat phase. He attacks with the Golem, pushes in 3 damage, and then ends the turn. When he does, he goes to the “end of turn” phase which includes the “end step”. The Minotaur comes back just before the turn goes to Red.

Now we’re going into a step-by-step execution of the combat phase. Same battlefield but with a difference.

Three creatures we haven’t seen before. White has an Infantry Veteran which can give an attacking creature a small power/toughness bonus. The Blinding Mage can tap a creature with a small payment of 1 White mana and itself becoming tapped. Remember that tapped creatures can’t attack or block.

Red has an Ember Hauler that can sacrifice itself (with payment of 1 colourless mana) to shoot anything for 2 damage.

Let’s say it’s Red’s turn. He wants to attack. He goes from his main phase to his combat phase. The first step in the combat phase is the “start of combat step”. During this step, White can decide whether or not to tap one of Red’s creatures with his Mage. If he doesn’t, then we go to the next step, the “declare attackers step” which is where Red will declare which of his creatures will attack.

Once you move from “start of combat step” to “declare attackers step”, the chance to stop the attack with the Mage is gone. The first thing that happens during the “declare attackers step” is the declaration of attacking creatures. This action cannot be interrupted except if you are still in the previous step, the “start of combat step”.

The same applies to the next step which is the “declare blockers step”. The declaration of blocking creatures cannot be interrupted except if you are still in the previous steps.

Now where were we?

White says he doesn’t want the Minotaur to attack, so he pays 1 White mana and taps his Blinding Mage to do the same action to the Minotaur. With the Minotaur tapped, White just saved himself 3 damage from combat.

In a real Magic game, a person usually declares his attacking creatures by skipping over the “beginning of combat step” to save time. You don’t have to worry about that habit. Just tell the opponent that you want to do something and that you need to back up the game to the previous step. Shortcuts are fine in Magic but not essential so you can always cancel out a shortcut if you really need to.

Red’s biggest creature has been tapped and can’t attack. Now, when they go to the next step which is the “declare attackers step”, only his two smaller creatures can attack. He sends both of them forth into danger.

As I said in a previous paragraph, players can play instants and card abilities after attackers are declared but before going into the “declare blockers step”. This is relevant here because Red is going to sacrifice his Ember Hauler to do 2 damage to the Assault Griffin. He has no intention of letting the Griffin block his smaller creatures.

Interesting rule here. Even though the Ember Hauler is attacking, you can still use its abilities. The problem is that when you sacrifice the Hauler, you remove it from combat and put it into the graveyard. This means then Hauler will deal no combat damage this turn. Its attack was just to bait White into making some mistake (forcing an opponent to commit to a mistake is not a rare strategy).

The combat field now looks like this:

Every other creature is off the board.

White blocks with the Blinding Mage simply because the Mage has enough toughness to get into a fight with the Perilous Myr and survive. Problem now, though, is that when the Myr dies it deals 2 damage to anything. The Myr, in death, can kill either creature.

White foresees this scenario but allows the game to proceed to the “combat damage step”, which is where the gruesome slaughter will take place.

So the game goes to the next step. The first thing that happens is that combat damage is dealt. When the dust clears, the Myr is dead and the Mage has 1 damage on it. The Myr’s ability goes on the stack and Red chooses to target the Mage with the ability.

Now players are able to react. White taps 3 mana and plays a card.

The second ability is easy enough. When it comes onto the battlefield, a creature of your choice gains an increase in toughness that lasts until the end of turn. The first ability is simply this:

Flash: you can play this spell at instant-speed

Meaning that even though it’s not his turn, White can still cast this creature because “flash” removes the timing restrictions when casting this creature. This creature can come into play any time you are allowed to cast an instant, which is practically any time at all.

Clearly, the toughness boost is going to save the Mage.

The players have nothing better to do and pass from “combat damage step” to “end of combat step”. Nothing happens during this step because no card says anything about it. The game then proceeds to the second main phase.

Next week is when we’ll explore the world of the Mirrodin, Scars of Mirrodin style. This week was certainly heavy so take a well-deserved break. See y’all in a week.

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