MTG Basics: Ways to Win a Game

MTG Basics: Ways to Win a Game

Getting a hang of a turn’s different phases or the seemingly limitless number of mechanics would be the toughest part of any new player’s journey.

It’s easy to lose sight of the ultimate goal: how do you win in Magic: the Gathering?

The good news is, the game has evolved over the years, so there are now multiple ways to win, some through very specific cards. We’re going to list down a few of the more often seen outcomes, starting with the first – taking your opponent’s life total to 0.

You Win When Opponent’s Life is 0

We go back to the early days of Magic in ’93, when all players had to do was get your Creatures on the board, attack, and take the opponent’s life away. In standard 1-v-1 Magic games, each player starts with 20 life, and whoever gets the opponent to 0 wins, provided you’re not at 0 as well. Dealing damage is often done through combat with Creatures, but there are also spells that can either deal direct damage to a player or cause him/her to lose life.

If both players simultaneously hit 0 or less life, it ends in a draw. Just note that a -6 life total is not considered worse than a -3 total and would still count as a draw.

You Win When Opponent Cannot Draw

When an opponent cannot draw a card from his or her deck (also known as the Library), then that player loses the game. Some players have very dedicated strategies to put cards from the Library into their Graveyard (a mechanic called Mill). It’s one of the more popular alternate forms of winning. Some popular Mill cards are Persistent Petitioners, Millstone, and Tasha’s Hideous Laughter. As you may have noticed, Mill is a trademark of blue, as the colour is all about card advantage (and disadvantage).

You Win When Opponent Has 10 Poison Counters

Poison is a deadly way of winning, because rather than take your opponent down from 20 to 0 life, you can also find a way to give him/her 10 Poison counters. This is often done through the mechanic Infect.

For example, Blackcleave Goblin has Power 2 and also has Infect. If you attack with it and your opponent has no blockers, instead of taking 2 damage to their life, they instead get 2 Poison counters. Once a player hits 10, the game is over. While an opponent can gain life to keep their life total above 0, no amount of life can counteract Poison counters.

You Win When Opponent Has Taken 21 Commander Damage

This is specifically for the Commander format, so it doesn’t apply to anything on MTG Arena or other formats. Since Commander has become so popular in recent years and has become the format of entry for many new players, we felt it was prudent to point this very relevant winning strategy.

Commander damage is one of the ways to win in Magic, but this path only applies to the Commander format.

In Commander, when an opponent has taken 21 or more damage from a specific Commander, that player loses. Players start with 40 life in this format, so 21 is just a little over half one’s life total. Commander damage can relevant when an opponent has somehow gained an incredible amount of life (let’s say 1000) and it wouldn’t be feasible to keep jabbing at him for 50 turns. Instead, with Commander damage, once you’ve dealt 21, you’ve won!

End Step

This isn’t the all and be-all of winning in Magic: the Gathering. There are dozens of cards with very specific requirements, that once met, will let you win the game instantaneously. For example, Simic Ascendancy feeds on +1/+1 counters being placed on Creatures, while Approach of the Second Sun relies on survival in order to cast it the second time.

When you’ve gotten a firmer grasp on the game’s mechanics and the common ways of winning, challenge yourself to accomplish the different alternative win-conditions!

After playing from Tempest to Urza's Saga block, Ted took a 20 year break from the game before returning to the classic Plane of Dominaria in 2018. His favourite formats are Commander, Draft, and, grudgingly, Standard.

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