How to Play Magic the Gathering: With Playing Cards – The Twin’s Variant

You’re stuck in line waiting for the doors to open. You’ve been there for hours playing games on your phone. Dadoop. That’s your battery telling you it’s burned out and dying a hot and painful death. There’s just enough juice to make one phone call to your past self asking, “Why on Earth did you forget to bring your Magic Cards?!” Wait! Someone’s asking you to play cards with them. Great. But what fun game can we play with a normal deck of playing cards? War? Please. And that’s when you remember, “We can play Magic: The Gathering with playing cards!!”

That’s right. I’m about to teach you how to play a one-on-one game of Magic the Gathering with a single deck of playing cards. It’s quite simple and extremely fun. Read on to see how to play!

(For those unfamiliar with the basic rules of Magic, please read my more elaborate post here, coming soon.)

Setting up the Game

  1. Split the deck into two piles; each with one red suit and one black suit. Each of these piles is a player’s library. Shuffle the libraries.
  2. Determine who goes first because the first player does not draw a card on their first turn and the first player to deck out loses.
  3. Each player draws seven cards. These cards are your hand.
  4. Each player starts with 20 life points. The goal is to bring your opponent’s life total to zero or less. However, a player can also lose by decking out (being unable to draw a card during their draw phase).
  5. Follow the Rules below.

Note: These rules were written briefly after Onslaught and before the new card face. Therefore, the rules assume and reflect those valid before the new card face.

The Rules

  • All Face Cards (i.e. Jack, Queen, King), 9s and 10s are Lands. All lands, when in play, tap to produce one generic mana since all casting costs in this game are generic.
  • Only one land can be played per turn.
  • All Aces are  “Counterspells”. You can play them from your hand as an instant for zero mana cost. They can also be summoned as 1/1 creatures for 1 mana during your main phase. (Note: Counterspells can counter other counterspells.)
  • All non-land Numbered cards (i.e. 2 – 8) are Creature cards with mana cost equivalent to their face value. They get summoned as X/X creatures where X is the face value of the card.
  • All creatures cannot attack the turn they come into play (i.e. all creatures have Summoning Sickness).
  • All cards that can be played as creatures can also be played as Morphed Creatures. Morphed creatures costs 3 mana to play and come into play face down as 2/2 creatures. They can unmorph (turn face up) at any time for a mana cost of one less than their face value. They unmorph as X/X creatures where X is the card’s face value. Reminder: You may unmorph your creature after the defending player has declared blockers and at the end of your opponent’s turn. Unmorphing a creature does not remove or give it summoning sickness.
  • All Non-Land cards can also be Cycled for 2 mana. To cycle a card, pay 2 mana, discard the card into your graveyard, then draw a card from the top of your library. (Note: Cycling is a card ability, thus it cannot be countered.)
  • All Red Cards that can be played as creatures can also be played as Burn cards. Burn cards have mana costs equivalent to their face value. They are instants that read “Deal X damage to target creature or player where X is the card’s face value.” Reminder: Burn cards are instants, thus they can be countered.
  • All 8s are also Terminates. Terminates cost 2 mana and read “Destroy target creature.”

Turn Structure

Each turn consists of the following phases:

  1. Untap
  2. Draw
  3. First Main Phase
  4. Combat Phase
  5. Second Main Phase
  6. End of Turn Phase

That’s It! Go Start Playing!

Really, the rest follows from those rules.  As you can see, the game draws heavily from the Onslaught block where Morph and Cycling were introduced/brought-back and aggro was fun.


  • Each library is 26 cards.
  • There are only 10 lands in a player’s library (that’s 38% or a little more than 1 in 3 cards).
  • Morphing large creatures early can reduce their cost later on as well as hide their true P/T until the opportune moment.
  • There are only 2 counterspells in a player’s library. Countering morphed cards are often a useful trick in preventing your opponent from playing large creatures.
  • Use your burn cards to destroy morphed cards before your opponent has enough mana to unmorph them.
  • The longest game can only be 26-7=19 turns long. Keep this in mind when planning your moves. You may deck out before you kill your opponent.

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