Gavin Verhey: 5 Tips for Teaching Magic

June 13, 2018 | 3 min to read

Gavin Verhey, Magic R&D

Magic is a wonderful game, full of incredible strategy, vibrant worlds, and infinite possibilities. But all that depth means there's a lot to learn as a brand new player. Where do you even start?

Gavin Verhey from Magic R&D here, and I want to talk to you about how to teach Magic. We engineered Core Set 2019 to be the perfect place to start playing—and we want to give you the tools to get your new players started and headed in the right direction.

So I'd like to share with you my five most important tips for teaching Magic:

1. Use Welcome Decks

The complete intricacies of bloodthirst, bestow, and banding might be second nature to you (okay, nobody knows the complete intricacies of banding), but for a brand-new player, start with something tailored for their experience: Core Set 2019 Welcome decks.

First of all, it's fantastic to be able to tell them that they can keep the deck. But second, they're full of cards that make excellent teaching tools on basic mechanics—all without being too complex.

2. Explain the Goal

Everything in a game revolves around the goal. In a game of basketball, once I tell you that the goal is to have the most points at the end of the game, everything else can be built around that.

In Magic, that's dropping your opponent from 20 to 0. So I like to start with something like, "We both start at 20 life. Your goal is to get me down to 0 before I get you down to 0. You'll use a mix of creatures and spells to accomplish that goal."

3. Explain the Fundamentals of Mana

The backbone of Magic is its mana system. During this portion, explain how:

  1. There are five colors (don't get into how each of them work).
  2. You use lands to play cards from your hand.
  3. You can play one land from your hand each turn.
  4. You tap lands to generate the mana to play cards.
  5. To read a mana cost ("2R means you need three lands, at least one of which must be red.").
  6. Cards untap at the start of your turn.

After that, I tell them about the card types they are most likely to see are, other than lands. Namely, creatures, instants, and sorceries.

Highlight the difference between the two: creatures stay in play and continue to be used. Instants and sorceries are played, you do what they say, and then they go away.

Avoid getting into how combat works, how certain spells work, or anything else at this stage. You want to be careful to not overcomplicate things. We'll get there in time—but for now, let's play!

4. Shuffle up, draw, and begin!

The most fun part is playing the game, not learning the rules! Get right into the action and explain things as you encounter them.

Walk them through their first turns. I tend to play the first game with hands face up so I can see what people can do and make sure they're on the right track. But the important thing is just that they get to do things.

Don't explain every detail of every turn. Simply, "Draw a card. Play a land. Can you play something else? If not, pass back to my turn.". That should get you through the first few turns. Until. . .

5. Combat!

As soon as someone has an attack-ready creature, it's time to explain combat!

Here I explain power and toughness. ("Power is the amount of damage something deals. Toughness is the amount of damage something can take at one time before it goes away.")

Start by having the player with an active creature tap it to attack. Explain that if it's unblocked by the other player, that player will take damage equal to its power. And make it clear that creatures don't attack each other: they attack players. Magic is different from other games in this regard.

If a player has an eligible blocker, I run through all the potential outcomes to better illustrate how combat works.

From there, you're on the right path. And above all else, remember: have fun! Your goal here is to show how fun the game can be. Let them take back plays, let them redraw seven cards if they don't draw any lands—just make sure you have a fun first game.

Take these teaching tips to heart and you'll be kicking off entire new generations with Core Set 2019! Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @GavinVerhey if you have any questions.

I hope you have as much success teaching the set as we had making it. It's a blast!