Magic: The Gathering and World of Warcraft TCG with Standard Playing Cards

A few months ago my 7-year-old son casually mentioned that it would be cool to play Magic: The Gathering (MTG, or Magic) with standard playing cards (sometimes called a poker deck or a French deck). We gave it a whirl. He won, naturally, as he was making up the rules.

But he got me thinking about how to craft a Magic-esque experience with the cards that everyone has in their homes. Magic is fairly difficult to explain to people once you understand and appreciate some the complexity that makes it awesome. The simpler parts of the game, tapping for mana and attacking with creatures, are often lost in the avalanche of keywords and strategies.

The first TCG/CCG I really learned was World of Warcraft Trading Card Game (or WOWTCG), with has a fair bit in common with MTG. You play allies (like creatures), resources (like land for mana), and abilities (like non-creature spells) in a similar fashion. A major difference in WOWTCG is that you can play any card as a resource. For example, you might draw an “expensive” card and realize you’ll never get to play it. Lay it face down as a resource instead, and it now serves to make your other cards more viable.

So I combined that WOWTCG component with MTG to make the following game. If you don’t already know how to play MTG or WOWTCG this will likely be too brief of an explanation. A ton of stuff isn’t included (enchantments, equipment, artifacts, sorceries, and approximately a bazillion keywords and mechanics). All non-creature spells are instants.

The Setup

The game requires one deck of 52 standard playing cards.

Choose a dealer somehow (e.g. cut for a high card). Shuffle the deck and deal 7 cards to each player. No mulligans are allowed. The remaining cards are placed between the players and to one side; they make up a shared library.

Each player begins with 20 life points. Track them on paper or with dice.

Anatomy of a turn

The same steps apply as for MTG: untap, upkeep, draw, main, combat, main, end. Everything’s normal here. Creatures still have summoning sickness, blockers are declared in the same way, etc.

One major difference is that the active player can play any card as a Land (source of mana)… there are no specially designated Land cards. This is the bit from WOWTCG, see? Below is the list of card meanings.

Because the deck is shared, you’ll need a common graveyard. When the library is depleted, shuffle the graveyard to replace it. The maximum hand size of 7 at the end of any turn should ensure there are always cards available for the library.


You win by reducing your opponent’s life total to zero.

Card Meanings

Suits don’t matter. Here are the card meanings based on their values. You’ll probably want to keep this handy if you’re playing.

Ace: A 1/1 creature for 1 mana.

2: A 2/2 creature for 2 mana.

3: A 3/3 creature for 3 mana.

4: A 4/4 creature for 4 mana.

5: A 5/5 creature for 5 mana.

6: A 6/6 creature for 6 mana.

7: Instant: Counter spell for 3 mana.

8: Instant: Cause 3 damage to target creature or player for 2 mana.

9: Instant: Gain 3 life for 2 mana.

10: Instant: Give a creature +4/+4 until the end of turn for 3 mana.

Jack: Instant: Destroy target land or creature for 4 mana.

Queen: Instant: Cause 1 damage to every creature for 2 mana.

King: Instant: Draw 2 cards for 3 mana.

Reference Cheat Sheet

Here are some little card meaning reference sheets that should fit nicely inside of your Bicycle deck box:



Please comment with happiness or concerns. I’ll try to play this sometime and then I’ll have some feedback for myself as well.

Liking Magic: The Gathering

I’ve recently started to play Magic: The Gathering (MTG) for fun (i.e. not competitively). There are dozens of casual play formats that let you tailor the game to your preferences, and “kitchen table Magic” can be cheap.

I just bought a couple thousand common cards (i.e. the most commonly found in booster packs, 10 of the 15 cards) for about $40, and that’s enough to play with my family for years without getting bored. These cards are not valuable, nor can you reasonably expect to win much against competitive players in the MTG community, but it’s a ton of fun without a huge investment. The game formats using only common cards are called “Pauper” formats.

Magic has both a main game and a “metagame”. In the main game each player has a deck of cards and tries to defeat her or his opponent. In the metagame each player tries to build a deck of cards to use in the main game. You can opt out of either game if you want. Don’t like the metagame? Buy or build a preconstructed deck and you can play the main game with it. Just want to build decks, or don’t have any opponents handy? It’s pretty enjoyable just reading cards and trying to figure out how to make them work well together in a deck.

I like both, though. It’s fun to select cards for your deck and then test them against your opponents’ choices. It’s definitely better as a social game than as a solo game (although that’s possible too).

I thought very, very briefly about getting involved in the larger community of players, but it’s impractical and expensive for me. I like the game, but playing with cheap cards seems like a better fit than shelling out hundreds of dollars for the “good” cards. This way I’m not worried about my kids accidentally ruining a card and feeling bad about it. They’re super-replaceable (the cards, not the kids).

Both of my kids like to play and read the cards, and it’s been good for them.

We drive each school day for a healthy distance. A couple of weeks ago my son asked for some “undead” Magic cards (black) to read in the car. He read through about a hundred cards, including the “flavour text” (thematic text that doesn’t affect gameplay) in twenty minutes or so, and he’s seven. Magic and Pokémon both have been good reading challenges for him.

My daughter likes to categorize and sort the cards, although she seems less interested in actually playing the main game. She wants to do some drafting with some homemade “booster packs” (deck building based on a limited selection of random cards) soon, and I’m looking forward to it too.

All of the parts of Magic: The Gathering have been fun and challenging, and I’m glad I started. The only problem is figuring out how to store all these cards. :)

My first high school grad in 7 years

I’m teaching high school again, this time at Superior Heights C & VS in Sault Ste. Marie. Our graduation was last week, and it was the first I’ve attended since my previous school, Alexander Henry, in 2008.

I wasn’t really involved with the planning of grad (several other teachers worked like crazy to make it happen – major kudos to them). That’s probably just as well, since the veterans have a good system and don’t need me mucking around with it. 

The ceremony was lovely, the keynote was good (the Sault mayor), and the logistics were smooth. I was one of the people handing out programs at the door, and I held that same door for the graduates as they entered the gym. I also gave out high fives to all of them, which was super fun. 

A colleague asked me on grad day if I could hand out a couple of awards on stage, and I was happy to help. It was only afterward that I realized what an honour it was. I understand that in the past the awards have been handed out by other stakeholders, such as trustees or superintendents, and I think having a familiar face on stage helped to reduce the kids’ nervousness. I was so proud of them as they came up to shake my hand, accept their award, smile for their parents’ photography, and accidentally hug me in confusion (you know who you are).


But for me the highlight of the afternoon was mingling with the grads and their families after the ceremony. Our Bistro teacher (restaurant services) organized a fantastic spread for everyone to enjoy while we talked, shook hands, snapped photos, and generally had a good time. I grabbed as many selfies as I could with the kids I taught or spent a lot of time with. 

I met one young lady’s parents and older sister, which was a real treat. I worked with her Semester 1 in my MDM4U class, and then in the spring for a few weeks to prepare for the Euclid Math Contest (she did very well). She has a brilliant mind and is a wonderful person. She’s the one who made me cry after the ceremony. I’ll miss her a lot. 

It’s tough to watch these kids, now adults, venturing out into the world. They finish grad, mingle, then move on with their lives. I was so proud to watch them, but they’ve left an emptiness behind them. I felt a little down for a couple of days afterward. I know I’ll see many of them again, whether next year or sometime later. It’s still painful to let them go. 


I love you all, and I’ll miss you. Be safe, be happy, and come back to visit sometimes, okay? 


Ready for an M15-KTK-FRF-DTK Pauper Draft

I recently boughts playsets of every common from Theros forward. I found them on ebay, along with 100 basic land, with free shipping (yay!). My LGSs (LGSes? I dunno) don’t carry this sort of thing, so I couldn’t buy them here. 

The cards were packaged nicely in cellophane by set, one of each card in order by collector number: 


This meant I didn’t have to sort them at all. This was fine, and expected, but I wouldn’t have minded having to sort them myself; I like to organize stuff. 

My daughter and I opened one bundle from each of M15 Core, Khans of Tarkir, Fate Reforged, and Dragons of Tarkir. We were both excited to see the cards and organize everything. 

We separated the cards into six piles: one for each colour, then one more pile for the non-basic lands, colourless cards (like artifacts), and multicolour cards. We then shuffled each pile and made up little booster packs with two cards from each pile (12 cards per pack) and had a little draft. I drafted mostly Black-Red, with a splash of Blue, and Tori drafted Blue-White. This part was a lot of fun, more than I thought it would be. 

We played a game with our custom, drafted decks and then discussed how best to randomize cards into the packs to cut down on the predictability. We agreed to shuffle all of the cards together before splitting them into packs. This means the packs won’t be as uniform (exactly two of each colour), but it’ll hide what has been taken and it’ll make the process more interesting, we think. 

I made 21 packs of 14 and 5 packs of 15 (otherwise there would be 5 unused cards): 


So we’re ready to have a big drafting party. Lots of fun in our father-daughter geekery. :)

Hey, PLN: What’s the best high school day structure?

I had a good conversation with another teacher at my school yesterday about the pros and cons of the different schedules that are possible within our high school system. 

Our school has the same Day 1/Day 2 structure that I experienced as a student (four periods a day, Day 1 ABCD, Day 2 BADC). She had a desemestered high school with six classes a day on some kind of rotation (I can’t remember the details now).

We discussed MSIP, repeated block (like ABCDA), Cooperative Education, homework completion, prep time, and the possible impacts on science, math, language, Bistro (restaurant services class), lunch, sports, and so on. 

But in the end we concluded that we don’t know a lot; we just speculate a lot. 

So I’m looking for two things:

  1. What’s your high school’s schedule like, and what are the pros and cons from your perspective?
  2. Can you point me to research or books about the impact of different schedule structures on achievement, well-being, satisfaction, special programs, etc.? 

If it matters, my school has around 1000 students in grades 7-12, and there is a significant population that is bussed every day. 

Thanks, PLN!

Life Protip: Let people like what they like


I played some music today during my math class for the first time this semester. We were completing some exam review and I thought it might be nice to have some tunes on to lighten the mood (which is sometimes a bit leaden in that class, unfortunately).

Remember that I work with teenagers, so I’m sure you won’t be surprised when I tell you that students complained about the music. I played a mixture of current “hits” of various genres. Some vocal students griped about this or that artist, claiming that “he can’t sing”, etc. I switched to music they would be less familiar with but which I knew was “classroom safe”. As I anticipated, the leaders of tomorrow didn’t like that either.

They nearly all listen to music, but they each listen to their own music, which is supreme in their eyes, and everything else is, of course, absolutely terrible.

I tried to impart words of ancient wisdom, but I don’t know if anyone really agreed with me. “Let people like what they like, and you can like your stuff,” I said. “As long as they’re not hurting anyone, it’s fine.”

This isn’t just about music, though. I have dozens of interests, and many of them are niche or “weird” for most people. That doesn’t take away from my enjoyment of them, but often I don’t have many people to share with.

It took me many years to understand that it’s great when people like something, and it’s even better when there are lots of different things that people like. Let people like what they want to. If you’re lucky, they’ll share it with you, and you can learn to appreciate it the way they do.