The Planeswalker’s Apprentice – In-game Steps

“The Apprentice Serj leaned in and took the fiery blast from the young Urchin. His spells were hot in this chance encounter and his hair was mildly singed.

He thought in his mind how best to cast the powerful djinn’s orb he had palmed in his hand. He wanted to make the young and inexperienced boy believe his orbs were weak. Serj sent in his feeble sea Tern for an attack but the Urchin blasted it into ashy dust with a fire blast that was much more than needed to kill the bird. He smirked sadistically at his show of force on the small creature.

Knowing full well the Urchin wasted a powerful spell, Serj released the Djinn from this orb, a smoke cloud forming above his head. The Urchin’s mile turned to a grimace as he knew he had killed the previous target in a foolhardy way and had nothing left to stop the billowing Mahamoti Djinn that was soon to come attacking.

Serj smiled at the unwise child. “Go back and tell your shadowy master my mentor and I are ready for anything you bring our way.”


It’s been requested by several new players that I clarify the different in-game steps of Magic: The Gathering for beginner players. Admittedly, the in turn steps of Magic can be daunting for newer players and learning them and how to play your deck to complement them is one bridge to becoming a veteran player.

Untap Step

The Untap Step is the first step of your turn. During this step you are able to untap all your permanents to prepare for the upcoming turn. Players can do nothing during this step other than untap.

Upkeep Step

The Upkeep step is the second of the turn. When this step happens everything is checked. For instance. If a creature in play has the ability “Sacrifice a creature during your upkeep or destroy Example Creature” you do so. There are both cards that hinder you or help you that are stars of the Upkeep Step.

Interaction between players occurs occasionally in this step. Instants or abilities to tap opponent’s lands, artifacts or creatures at the end of this step tapped hinder spell casting production as well as paralyze a permanent for the upcoming turn.

Draw Step

The Draw Step is one of the most important steps of the game. Drawing just one card during this step is vital to casting spells both offensively and defensively later as well as keeping your hand fresh. Draw a card during this step unless a spell or effect says to draw more or less. Interaction with opponents during this step is usually minimal.

First Main Step

A common misconception many newer players have about this step is that they need to do everything they possibly can during this step. This is not the wisest way to use this step. I’ll give two examples.


Our Apprentice Serj is playing The Urchin. In Surj’s hand is a Mahamoti Djinn and an Island. He has five lands in play and has not played a land during his Main Step, The Djinn needs six lands to be cast. Serj also controls a 2/1 Welkin Tern and his opponent the Urchin controls a 2/2 Wingsteed Rider.

Being new to Magic, Serj lays the Island, his sixth land and casts the Djinn. Going into the Attack Step the Urchin now can see that a larger threat has been played and chooses not to block Serj’s attacking Welkin Tern, keeping his Wingsteed Rider alive to block potentially larger damage for later attack steps.

But let’s say instead of of going all out and playing the land and the Djinn during his first Main Step, Serj waits to play it during his second Main Step following combat. Even of the Urchin knows Serj has a Djinn in his deck but sees that he doesn’t have enough lands to cast it, may decide to block the attacking Tern, trading creature for creature. During the Second Main Step, Serj then plays the island and the 5/6 Mahamoti Djinn and the Urchin knows he has been bluffed.

This can even be taken one step further. Let’s sat the Urchin has a removal spell in hand and chooses to kill the Tern without knowing a Djinn is incoming. Playing spells at the right time is vital and nothing illustrates this more than the difference between First Main Step and Second Main Step.

Combat Step

This step is a someone what complicated one. Inside this step are several mini steps. Let’s have a look and see what typically happens during each of these.

Beginning the Combat

This step isĀ  could be defined as the official end of the First Main Step. Players now have the opportunity to tap, kill, damage creatures, or cast any instants they choose, typically ones that involve creatures that will be potentially attacking or blocking in the upcoming combat. By waiting till this step to do these things against the opponent’s creatures, the opponent cannot choose to cast more Main Step only spells such as creatures, sorceries, enchantments or artifacts.

Declare Attackers

This is the step a player can officially declare a creature as attacking. Once all the chosen creatures are declared as attacking, they become tapped. Instants and abilities can be played but these generally wait later into the Combat Step. Spells that can untap creatures for use as surprise blockers are ideal for this step.

Declare Blockers

The player being attacked then chooses which untapped creatures to designate as blockers. Each blocking creature must be paired with an attacker during this step. Once blockers have been declared, both players have the chance to play more instants and abilities.

Combat Damage

Creatures now deal combat damage to one another as well as players. Now is yet another chance you can cast instants and abilities to alter the combat. Damage is resolved during this step and any regeneration, damage negation as well as direct damage spells can be played at this time. Creatures taking lethal damage die and players change their life totals.

End Combat

Generally nothing happens during this step but you can still play effects. This step triggers any “end of combat” abilities or spells but it’s usually a quiet step.

Second Main Step

This is one of the most important steps as we both know from the explanation of First Main Step earlier. All the spells you wanted to hide from your opponent before combat are best played now. I play most of my creatures during this step unless of course I want to double bluff my opponent which would either be epic or just plain silly.

End Step

All “End of Turn” effects occur at the beginning of this step. You will have a chance to play instants or abilities again at the end of the End Step. If you choose to avoid an “End of Turn” effect with some other spell or effect it must be done at the end of the Second Main Step or it will not take place in time to help. This also means that all “Until end of turn” bonuses and penalties vanish as well as any damage creatures survived with.

During the last part of this step you must discard down to seven cards in hand if you have more than that. All previous damage creatures take is removed

Instants and abilities can be played as usual but this is usually saved for the beginning of the next players couple of steps.

The real key in Magic is to always play your spells in the most strategic way possible at the last possible moment. We will get into this strategy a bit further in down the line as this article is more for learning only the game steps and some simple timing strategies.

I hope this sheds some light on game steps for beginners. Perhaps with great timing and understanding of these steps you can elevate your game and not fall for the bluffing games players can play while using the steps to their advantage.

Aiokii has had his hair singed by many direct damage spells over his Magic career. To this day he still flinches every time a red mage taps a Mountain for mana when at three life remaining. If you would like to Lighting Bolt him in a Tweet or Facebook or in the comments below.

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