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. :)