Hey everybody, it’s your fearless leader back again after a brief hiatus to bring you some more staples to improve your Magic play. Last week we talked about some basic Magic slang that might help you understand the game a little better, and now we’re going to dial it BACK a bit and get even more basic. That’s right, we’re going to talk about the parts of a turn. Here’s a list, in order.
1.) Untap Step: This one is pretty self-explanatory. This is when you untap everything, essentially refreshing your board for the coming turn. A lot of new players are so eager to draw new cards they forget that this step actually comes first. Consensus seems to be that it’s unlikely you’ll ever get a warning for this at a tournament unless you’re a REALLY frequent offender, but still, it’s best to avoid bad habits.
2.) Upkeep Step: This is sort of the de facto “first chance” players get to act during a turn, since no player gets priority during the Untap Step. In most beginner-level games, you’ll breeze right past the Upkeep Step unless directed to perform an action or pay a cost at this time by a card on the field. More advanced players will often use this step to cast instants or activate abilities with the aim of depriving an opponent of his untapped resources, primarily creatures and lands. Since the Untap Step has already passed, locking down an opponent’s mana or creatures during the Upkeep Step effectively locks them down for that player’s entire turn, as well as for your subsequent turn.
3.) Draw Step: This one is also rather self-explanatory. Unlike the Untap Step, however, players CAN play instants and activate abilities during this step.
^^^^These 3 Steps make up the “Beginning Phase”^^^^
4.) First Main Phase: This is when the active player gets to cast sorcery and creature cards.
5.) Beginning of Attack Step: This step signals the transition from main phase to combat phase, and it’s when the active player gets to send his creatures at the opponent in hopes of dealing damage. Again, most beginner-level play won’t focus too much on this step, but spells and abilities can be used during the step, often with strategic advantage. For example, tapping an opponent’s creatures during the Attack Step denies that opponent the ability to attack with those creatures.
6.) Declare Attackers Step: This is the step most beginning players probably associate with the “start” of combat; it’s when you tap all of the creatures you intend to attack with, thus “declaring” them as attackers. This is also when you announce what you are attacking, either player or planeswalker.
7.) Declare Blockers Step: Now the defending player gets the chance to block the incoming attack. Some important points to note is that blocking does not require a creature to tap, and therefore does not require that a creature has already lost summoning sickness (a creature without “Haste” can still block the turn it comes into play). A creature can only block one creature unless otherwise noted, but multiple creatures can block one attacker. If this happens, the attacking player orders the blocking creatures (this order determines the order in which the attacker must assign lethal damage to the blockers).
8.) Damage Step: Now all creatures involved in combat do damage simultaneously. Those who remained unblocked deduct their power from the life total of the player, or the loyalty counters of the planeswalker they attacked. Blocking and blocked creatures deal damage to each other. When First Strike or Double Strike creatures are involved, a separate damage step is created that pre-empts the normal one. These creatures deal their damage in this new step.
9.) End of Combat: This is another primarily useless step. Players can cast instants or activate abilities here, but it mostly just distinguishes the transition from one phase to the next.
10.) Second Main Phase: A lot of beginners either don’t know about this step or don’t care to utilize it, but it’s true, you have a whole second main phase for playing instants and sorceries after your combat step. Whether it’s better to cast a given spell in main phase 1 or 2 is largely a situational thing. I’ve found that a lot of higher-skill players will hold off on even playing a land until Main Phase 2. This creates as much misinformation as possible going into the combat step, and might cause your opponent to make a mistake or miscalculation. It may seem insignificant, but it can make the difference between a win and a loss in a very close game.
11.) End Phase: The End Phase consists of the End Step and the Cleanup Step. The End Step is when all effects that end “at the start of the end step” wear off. It’s also just about the last time you can legally cast spells and activate abilities on a given turn. The Cleanup Step is where the active player discards down to the maximum hand size (7 cards, unless altered by a card’s ability). Also, effects that last “until the end of turn” or “this turn” end, and damage fades off of creatures who were dealt damage this turn.
So that’s a little rundown on how a turn works. Again, not having a 100% grasp of these concepts isn’t necessary for learning to play Magic passably, but it’s certainly of paramount importance for learning how to play Magic well. And making you better at Magic is what I’m all about.
Tune in for our next installment, when I’ll tell you why all of your deck ideas are bad!