Teach me (and AudreyK) how to play Magic: The Gathering

A combination of my watching Yu-Gi-Oh, our need to find an economical way of spending an evening, and a few other factors, have resulted in AudreyK (Best Roommate Ever[sup]TM[/sup]) and I developing a desire to learn how to play MTG.

We bought a 500 card lot off of eBay, and a friend of ours is sending us a bunch of basic lands (in the good news/bad news category, the eBay lot didn’t include any), and a basic rule sheet, the one that used to come with the starter decks, if I’m not mistaken.

Anyway, as it stands now, we only have the barest understanding of the rules (need mana to use cards, creatures/spells attack other player/monsters, other monsters block, is basically where we’re at). Unfortunately, the “rulebook” PDF and demo/introductory thing of the WotC website both blow. And they don’t really get into strategy.

So, can anybody give us any basic strategies and insights on how to build a solid deck? As always, any assistance is much appreciated.

Spend your opponent to death.

I’m afraid you missed the glory days. It used to be that a skilled player on a budget would rend their rich n00b opponent into gobbets of steaming flesh every time. Now, it’s all “Get the power card!”

We need a type X tournament, where only cards before 5th edition are legal.

KK, I’m a recovering Magic addict (“Hi, Zanshin! Keep coming back!”). I haven’t played in some time, but I can share some of the strategies I used to use.

In general, you don’t want a huge deck (more than about 65 cards gets too unwieldy, is hard to shuffle and you’ll never pull the cards you want to). Shoot for around 60 cards or so. Approximately forty percent of your total deck should be lands or other cards that give you mana. The makeup of the rest of the deck should depend on the type of deck you want to play, and the colors you want to use. I generally shoot for about 40% lands, 30% creatures, and the remainder split between interrupts, enchantments and artifacts. Keep in mind that you’ll want interrupt/instant cards to interrupt your opponents’ attacks, while enchantments can be played on your turn to either improve your creatures or interfere with your opponents’.

Blue concentrates mostly on defense, especially card removal (i.e., Counterspells prevent his cards from making it onto the table, Control Magic steals his monsters and makes them yours, et cetera). White is also defensive and is oriented towards damage reduction (Circles of Protection prevent you from taking damage, Pacifism keeps his units from attacking). Green is a nature color and is also somewhat protection-oriented, although less so than White. Red and Black are offensive colors: Red concentrates on damage-dealing spells like Fireball and Flare, while Black spells are necromantic and do things like steal life points and resurrect dead units.

There are also ‘gold’ creatures, that you have to have a combination of mana to pull (you might need Red and Green, Green and Blue, or even three colors for some of the big bad mommajommas). Artifacts can be useful – oftentimes if your units get wiped out by a ‘kill every unit of THIS color’ card, your artifact creatures will be around to save your butt.

You can play any number of colors in your deck; from a mono-color deck to having all five colors. In my experience, my favorite decks are two-colors; you won’t have any trouble pulling the lands you need to power your cards, and you don’t have to worry about getting screwed by protective cards (i.e., you’re playing a red mono-color deck, all your units are red, and your opponent has Circle of Protection: Red. Uh-oh…).

My favorite combinations for decks are generally one offensive and one defensive color (Red/White, Black/Blue, Red/Blue) or two defensive colors (White/Blue, Green/White).

One tactic that seems to work well is the ‘weenie deck’. Have lots of cheap monsters that you can pull for one or two mana and have a TON of them in your deck. That way you can pull one or two monsters every round, and you can eventually overwhelm your opponent. You’ll want some protective measures to keep your monsters from getting wiped out by one of those ‘do 1 point of damage to all creatures’ cards, though.

I also liked flying decks – have lots of flying creatures (as non-flying creatures can’t block flyers). My best deck was a white/blue deck; lots of flying creatures, and tons of Counterspells/Control Magics/Pacifisms and similar cards - I’d freeze his monsters or take them over, keep his stuff from coming out on the table, and fly over his defenders with my flying units.

One thing you’ll want to be aware of is combo cards – oftentimes, there’ll be a card that has an ability that dovetails nicely with the ability of another card, and the combination is devastating. More playing experience will give you an idea of what some good combos are.

Be careful – it’s an addictive game and if you keep playing regularly, it’s frighteningly easy to invest tons of cash. Every time you go to the store, you’ll find yourself saying, “Hey, just one or two more booster packs…” :slight_smile:

Have fun!

New players tend to use direct damage (Lightning Bolts, Fireballs, and stuff like that) on their opponents as soon as they get them. Those cards are almost always better used against your opponent’s creatures.

Instants can be used at just about any time - use them for suprise. Many new players will cast Giant Growth (gives a creature +3/+3) on something and then attack with it. It’s better to attack with the creature, let the opponent block or not, and THEN use the Giant Growth. The reason for this is, you can sometimes take out a much larget creature this way or sneak some extra damage through.

Another thing: don’t be afraid to lose creatures. A lot of newer players are terrified of doing anything that might risk their Grizzly Bears, and a lot of games between two new players degenerate into standoffs because both sides don’t want to attack. While this doesn’t mean to attack when things are just going to die, if you can send a bunch of creatures over - some of which will die, some of which will kill blockers, and some of which will do damage, that’s not a bad deal.

It’s a fun game, especially when you’re just playing with your own circle of friends. Don’t let the naysayers scare you - the tournament system has gotten obnoxiously out of control, but if you’re just playign with your friends or family, you have nothing to worry about. Enjoy.

No, that’s not what you want, robertliguori. Type 1 tournaments (those in which all editions are legal) are often populated by the oldest, most powerful, most expensive cards, IME. Think Alpha/Beta/Unlimited and the early expansions. Wizards toned down the power in the later expansions.

Besides, it looks like KKBattousai is more interested in casual play, rather than tournaments, right?

My husband is an avid M:TG player, and he pointed me to this website. It’s got all the current rules (you want to play with rules printed after the sixth (“Classic”) edition of the basic set, because there were a lot ot rules changes made at that time, and if you play with others, those are the rules they’ll be using, too), as well as current rulings on specific cards, errata (sometimes they change the wording on specific cards to clarify the rules), and “spoilers” (card lists) for all editions.

The rules tell you that you need a deck of at least 40 cards. Most people find 60 cards to be an ideal size (my husband says 60-70). You should not use more than four of any one card…I don’t know if this has ever been codified in the official rules, but it’s the standard rule for tournaments, and everyone I’ve ever played with casually has stuck to that rule. You want to use about 40% mana (lands)–an easy way to calculate this is to put two lands in for every three other cards. Two colors in a deck is safest. One-color decks are fast, but easily hosed…if your opponent’s cards have protection from your color, you’re in big trouble. Three colors gets more complicated, and you run the risk of not having the right mana when you need it. Four- and five-color decks are even more tricky to play.

Different colors are good for different things:
Red: Fire–lots of quick damage
Green : Nature–big creatures, mana-producing elves, healing
White : Protection–small creatures with protection, angels, artifact/enchantment destruction
Blue : Mind–tricky cards, counterspells, flying creatures, reacting to your opponent
Black: Death–draining opponents, fear, cards that hurt yourself as well as others

Now, as far as strategy goes…it depends on what cards you have, and your personality :). Just look through your cards and put in the ones you like. However, you don’t want to have too many spells that cost a lot of mana. Have a good mix of small, cheap spells and big, expensive ones that will finish off your opponent.

For a good, cheap deck to start with, I find that you can’t go wrong with elves. Elves are small green creatures that you can usually also tap for mana. They are also often common cards, so your 500 card set should have a lot of them, or you can buy them for about $.15 each at the gaming store. Pair the mana-producing power of elves with Fireball and other red burn spells (there are many that are similar to Fireball) and you’ve got a good red/green deck. There are also ways to make your elves bigger with surprising results. Giant Growth is good. (Instant, gives +3/+3 to target creature until end of turn) There are some rare cards that are even better, such as Might of Oaks (like Giant Growth, only it gives +7/+7). The point is to make your opponent think that all you have are these wimpy elves, and then you crush them with them (or the Fireballs you cast with their mana)!

Don’t be afraid to experiment with the cards, and have fun!

Off and on magic addict checking in. A few corrections to the generally good stuff mentioned above:

A skilled player on a budget can still rend with the best of them. The problem is that the definition of skilled has changed a bit. Skilled now includes knowing the current batch of cards backwards and forwards, and being a good trader to get what you need. (Yes, you can buy your way in more easily, but a skilled trader will spend much less for the same stuff.)

But forget all that because you’re just playing for fun against each other, not in tournaments, so who cares? It is very possible to spend very little and have a lot of fun with the game.

Unless you have a very good reason to do otherwise, you want EXACTLY a 60 card deck. EXACTLY! Here’s why: The rules of the game say 40-card minimum, but tournament rules say 60-card minumum (for constructed deck). The two tournament rules that just about everyone follows even outside of tournaments are: 60-card minimum, and 4 copy per card limit. If you ever play with anyone else, they will probably expect you to abide by those rules. Given that fact, you want to have the minuimum allowable size to maximize the chances of getting the cards you want. It’s a common newbie mistake to say “oh, I’ll just squeeze in a few more good cards.” Trust me, it doesn’t work. You will get beaten by someone with a more concentrated deck. The only reason to go for a bigger deck is if your deck has a lot of cards that make you draw cards, and you’re worried about running out. (Or if you play with that card that says “you win if you have more than 200 cards in your deck.”) :wink:

blue is more the color of counter magic. Or more generally, meta-magic. It’s a great support color, but doesn’t do a lot on it’s own. Mostly good for:
drawing cards
“bouncing” cards back to their owner’s hand from play
countering spells as they are played
flying creatures

“removal” is generally the domain of red and black. Black spells often just kill stuff directly, and red often damages things enough to kill them. “Bounce” is often as good as removal, but it’s not really removal.

Green is not so much protection oriented, it’s more known for speed. As Tamex said, it’s got lots of mana-producers and under-costed creatures.

There are gold spells that aren’t creatures as well, and some gold cards even have all five colors! (note, even though the card is colored gold, “gold” is not considered a color. A gold card that costs one black and one green is not gold, it’s both black and green.)

2 colors are ideal, at least for starting. If you go to 3, make the third a “splash”. (just a small part of the deck compared to the other two colors.)

Take a look at the back of one of the cards. You see the circle of colors? Notice how each color has two friendly neighbors (Green is between red and white, for example) and two “opposites” (Green’s enemies are black and blue.) You’ll see this crop up a lot in the cards. For example, Green cards with protection from black or blue are much more prevalant than green cards with protection from red or white. Picking two adjoining colors for your deck will (usually) be better/easier than two opposing colors.

A very fun way to play is “drafting.” Take, say half of your 500 cards, shuffle them, and put them in a pile between you. Turn 4 cards face up. Choose the one you like best, and take it. Then let Audrey choose 2, then you get the last one. Turn up another 4 cards and let Audrey choose first. Repeat until out of cards. Then take 15-30 minutes and all the land you want, and build a deck out of what your drafted. (this can be a 40-card deck if you like. draft and “sealed deck” tournaments use 40-card minumums, and no 4 copy limit). Then play the decks against each other for a while, tweak them if you want, then shuffle them back in and draft again.

(There are tons of other ways to draft, this is probably the best for 2 players. You could deal 5 cards and nobody gets the last one. You could choose your cards secretly. You could even draft the worst cards you see, then switch piles before deck-building.)

Another fun thing to do is play with “ante”. Each of you randomly puts one card aside, face up at the begining of the game. (if it’s a land, choose again). Winner takes both cards.

Legomancer’s advice about instants is spot on. The other three biggest newbie mistakes I can think of are:

  1. Trying to attack someone’s creatures instead of them. Remember. The attacker chooses attackers, then the defenders chooses and assigns blockers. He doesn’t HAVE to block! He can just choose to take a little damage.
  2. Not understanding the “summoning sickness” rule. Here it is: “In order to attack, or use an ability with the tap symbol in its cost, a creature must be in play under your control continuously from the beginning of your turn.” Note: not to block, not to use an ability that doesn’t require tapping, not your opponent’s turn, your turn. Creatures don’t come into play tapped, they just can’t do certain things right away.
  3. Not understanding that you can use abilities multiple times per turn. There are many cards that say stuff like: “(red mana symbol): +1/+0”. I don’t know how many time’s I’ve seen someone with 6 red mana available who only “pumps up” the creature once, not realizing you can keep doing it repeatedly.

Here’s a few more (slightly) advanced tips once you’ve got the basics down:

  1. Card Advantage - This is the #1 concept to win you games. Basically, you usually get one card per turn. It’s a limited resource. Anything you can do to get more cards than your opponent is a Good Thing. Thus, any card that includes the magic phrase “draw a card” is generally a good card, no matter how mediocre it’s other effects are. Card advantage also manifests in how you play your cards. Wrath of God is the classic example. It destroys all creatures in play. All of them, including your own. If your opponent has only one creature in play, and you play Wrath, it’s a 1 for 1 trade. If you can manage to get two of his creatures for one of your cards, that’s better. Even if you catch a few of your creatures, as long as you get more of his, it’s good. Simple, but important concept. Cards are key.

  2. The old sacrifice trick - You may come across cards that say “sacrifice a creature to do X”. And you may think, well, that’s not a really a good deal, I need my creatures. But here’s the key: Like it or not, some of your creatures will die. If the sacrificing spell is an instant, or an ability on a card in play, you can use it at any time, even if the creature is about to die anyway. So, consider Death Bomb (black instant, sacrifice a creature to destroy a creature and do 2 damage to you opponent.) Save it in your hand until one of your creatures would die (due to a spell, or combat, or whatever) then respond to whatever is going to kill it by playing death bomb. Now you’re still down a creature but you got to take one down with him.

  3. End of the turn - especially for blue spells, the “end step” of your opponent’s turn is a key time to do things. Since it’s the last moment before your untap phase, you can do stuff now and then immediately untap. This is key when playing the waiting game. Suppose I’ve got a counterspell in my hand (blue instant, counter’s target spell) and also a Jaymdae tome in play (artifact that lets you draw a card for 4 mana) but only 4 available mana. By waiting until my opponent’s end step to use the tome, I can see if he plays anything worth countering. If so, I use the counter, if not, “at the end of your turn, I use the tome” and draw a card. This lets you be as flexible as possible and react to what your opponent does.

By the way, after you’ve played a few games, please come back and let us know how it went.

I stopped playing Magic when the 5th edition came out, as my favorite expansions–it’s been so long since I played that I can’t remember the cycles, but the ones with phasing and shadow
–were phased out of Type II competition and the people who wanted to play Type I used all the broken power cards from early on. Also, this was when you started to get an onslaught of prepubescent jerky kids using tournament-built burn decks. Those kids really pissed me off, plus I couldn’t find anyone to play anywhere else besides where they did.

Also, I only had a limited amount of money and couldn’t throw it into buying and trading cards, so I was always working at a disadvantage trying to make substitutions using what I had for what I wanted. Very annoying, as either I have no luck when it comes to getting rare/medium rare cards, I don’t want/can’t spend the money to get them, and then again you’ve got those kids with mommy and daddy buying them everything so they can beat your ass with a rare card deck.

If I actually got back into the game, learned the new expansions for Type II, and all, I’d go back to trying to play my blue/white control decks. Load it up with lots of counterspells, protections, some Armageddons and whatever-it-is-that-destroys-all-land, and monsters that had other nifty special abilities. As I said, my favorite deck was my old, hand-built blue/white control deck, with lots of blue/white shadow to get hits without blocking, some banding, and some phasing.

Some tips:

Dual colors are generally the way to go. Red burn decks might be fast, but if I get lucky and pull out of CoP: Red, you won’t get anywhere. My favorite, as I said, is blue/white, but I’ve also played blue/red, white/red, blue/green, white/green, green/black (a fun one if you have the growth and ressurection cards you need), and black/white. Some of these work better than others, you need to look at what you’ve got and maximize your strengths.

Definitely keep the deck count low. I once tried (for fun) playing a 200-card green deck. Didn’t get anywhere except for a quick death.

Unless you’re sure you can get out enough land to cast that kracken or tri-color gold monster, don’t bother putting it in–especially if you’re using a gold card and land just for it. Find something else that’ll have a nice effect. Cards mean nothing if they just sit in your hand for the whole time.

Know how to play your strategy with your cards. As somebody said, if you can keep tapping to pump up a creature, do it. If you’re going to use a counterspell that requires dumping your hand, keep your hand low. In a slower game, card control is important. It doesn’t matter how good your strategy seems to be if you lose by getting decked.

As I said, I haven’t played for years (I suppose I could find people to play here on campus but I didn’t bring my cards with me and I don’t have the current expansions.) It’s fun if you have people to play. I stopped because I ran out of people to play with and I wasn’t interested in collecting just for the sake of collecting. (I’d rather have CDs and DVDs.)

Wow, I knew this would be the place to come to! (I googled, of course, but good guides for late blooming newbies are hard to come by.)

I’ll have to take a look at my cards after work, and assemble a decent deck (maybe red/black to start out, until AudreyK’s superior strategies force me to be more conservative) but in the meantime another “dumb n00b” question or two…

Can somebody tell me exactly how the instants and interrupts work? All I found were vague references to “priority” that were never really explained.

I know sorceries can (usually) only be played during a player’s turn, but instants and interrupts can be played, mana permitting, during an opponent’s turn as well, correct? What, exactly, are the rules governing this? And can enchantments be played in this way as well?

Along similar lines, I think I saw the answer in one of the crappy Wizards.com rule PDFs, but, if I use an instant to wipe out a card that’s assigned to block one of my monsters, the monster that was going to be blocked gets to attack the other player directly, right?


My friend had better send those basic lands to us soon, I’m getting antsy here…

Oh, and of course, thanks all around to the great answers and insights!

First thing to realize is that the term “interrupt” is obsolete. Everything that used to be an interrupt is now an “instant”.

Play timing is dependent on two things: “priority” and “the stack”.
Priority is defined, simply, as whose turn it is to do something. Generally, the person whose actual game turn it is has priority. If that person chooses not to do something, then the opponent has the opportunity to play a spell. If both players choose to pass, then the current phase ends, the next phase begins, and the person whose turn it is again gets priority.

Certain spells, like Sorceries, Enchantments, Artifacts, and Creature spells can only be cast when a player has priority (translation: you can only cast them during your turn, and only during one of your two Main Phases). Other spells, known as Instants, can be played at any time (well, almost…), whether it is your turn or not. The abilities of most cards are also played as Instants (specific exceptions are generally noted on the cards themselves, and usually say something like “you may only play this ability at any time you could play a sorcery”, or words to thast effect).

Once a spell is played, it goes into “the stack”. This can actually be intepreted literally: if a spell is played, it goes on the bottom of the stack. The opponent can play a spell or use an ability in response to this action. This goes on top of the stack. Once the stack has started, you can only play Instants or use abilities. But, you and your opponent can continue to play such spells/abilities until you both “pass”. Then, the stack begins to resolve, with whatever is on top resolving first, etc. So, the first spell played will be the last to resolve.

A simple example is “countering” a spell. Player A plays a Creature spell. Creatures, not being Instants, can only be played first in the stack (although, there are exceptions, and these will be noted on the cards themselves). Player B can respond by playing an appropriate spell, e.g., Counterspell. This then goes on top of the stack. Assuming no one wants to do anything else, these resolve in reverse order. So, the Counterspell takes effect first: the Creature spell is countered. Since the Creature spell is countered before it resolves, it goes to the graveyard instead of entering play. More complicated examples can arise if the Counterspell is itself countered, or if various abilities are played in response to one or more of the spells played.

Clear as mud now, right?

Instants can be played at any time.

Enchantments and Sorceries can only be played on your turn (unless they say otherwise on the card). Typically they can only be played during the main phase. A turn is broken up like this:

Main phase, pre-combat
Main phase, post-combat
End of turn

Interrupts don’t exist anymore, as they were confusing. Interrupts were faster than instants, and usually fell into two categories: spells that altered other spells (such as Magical HAck, which “changes” a word on a spell) and counterspells (which counter spells). It was eventually decided that there was no need for the difference, and Interrupts were phased out. In most cases you can play interrupts as though they’re instants.

To understand Instants, imagine this:

A attacks with a green 2/2 creature.

B casts an instant at the creature that does 2 points of damage.

A responds with an instant that grants +3/+3 to a creature.

Both players then say they have no more responses. What happens is this: the cards resolve in reverse order, so:

The attacker gains +3/+3, making it 5/5. Then It takes 2 points of damage, not enough to kill it. It stays 5/5 until the end of that turn, so it won’t die at the end of the turn.


Blocking in combat is tricky. First off, it used to be the rule that if A blocks with a creature, and the creature gets tapped before it does its damage, it doesn’t do its damage. So say that I block your 2/2 Grizzly Bears with my 2/2 Goblin Wombat. You then play an instant that taps my Wombat. The Wombat would take 2 damage, the Bears would take none. That rule has been changed (grrr) and now the Wombat would still do its damage.

Now let’s say that instead of tapping my Wombat, you Lightning Bolt it. Boom, 3 damage, it dies. Bears still take no damage, because the Wombat is gone. HOWEVER, as soon as I declared the Wombat as a blocker, the Bears were blocked. They take no damage from the now-deceased Wombat, but neither do they do their damage to anything.

Simply put, once a creature is blocked, it will remain blocked, even if the blocker is physically removed from combat. So, if you attack with a creature, and your opponent blocks, and you then play a Terror (for example) on the blocking creature, the net effect is only that the blocking creature goes to the graveyard. The damage from your attacking creature does not carry through to your opponent - unless it has the Trample ability.

The trick, then, is to try to remove any potential blockers prior to combat if you don’t want them interfering with your plans.

HA! not while your playing cards! (Tars Tarkas is the proud owner of thousands of dollars worth of Star Trek and Star Wars CCG cards, as are RexDart and NPavelka)
Actually, you can get commons and uncommons pretty cheap from experienced players (older players like us would give them away as we had thousands). Magic Rules have changes considerably since i played it, so i wont be able to help you there. Make sure you do the Tap a Mountain and get a Coors Light joke!

Incidentally, although I don’t buy many new cards anymore, I would like to give a shout-out for the Magic Online game. It’s not a bad interface, lets you play with many people online, and I have yet to encounter any obnoxious players. Worth a look.

Yes, the Online game is wonderful. If anybody here is in need of tickets for the Online game (1 ticket = $1.00), I’ve got a bunch of extra tickets that I’m trying to sell off through PayPal. If interested, you can reach me at cjammer@texas.net and I’ll give you an honest deal so you pay less than $0.90 per ticket.

(sorry about the plug… now back to our regularly schedule programming)

Though I never enjoyed M:TG I did play Vampire: The Eternal Struggle a whole, whole lot, and from reading comments above I see that general deck-building advice is appropriate.

It cannot be stressed enough to keep your deck tight. And that means, don’t toss in good cards! The more cards you toss in the less likely it is that you will ever get them.

Now, I’m not sure how the rules of M:TG state things like picking up new cards, but in V:TES, unless a card specified otherwise, you always replace it from your deck after it is used (in fact, during use… play it and replace it instantly). But this meant that when you had a card to play, in almost all circumstances, you should just play it. Holding out for a killer combo you tried to sneak in your deck could easily kill you by forcing you to keep a stale hand the whole time. The less cards you play, the less you discard; the less you discard, the less you pick back up.

So in V:TES my general deck building was to come up with three-card combos at most which could still be reasonably effective if I only had two of the three and wasn’t a complete waste if I only had one of the three. This insured I was never left holding the bag, as it were.

You lay out some hands like this. Say, seven or eight “combos” for a total of about 24 cards. Just lay them out, duplicate them, whatever (though it is also good to stick with the 4 card limit rule for more than just portability reasons, more on that later). Now add to these combos with your supporting infrastructure. Try and look for patterns from these combos and build around that. Start with simple attacks and build a complicated deck from them, not the other way around. If you know what your deck can do—which you will if you build it like this—then you will also know what it cannot do and you will be mentally prepared.

I don’t know how many times I’ve seen people build theme decks only to find that they suck. They started from the grand theme and tried to see what attacks would fit into that. But this only meant they never really had a plan for any particular hand that would actually come up!

The four-card limit is more than just good advice in terms of what most people do… most people do it for a reason. First, lots of the same card really do make for a boring game. Second, it leaves you drastically open for attack from just about everything. Third, it focuses your attack down to a single point that might be easy to defend against.

If you start from small attacks and build up around them to an integrated whole then you will know exactly what your deck can do in principle. A few plays with it and you will know what you can do in fact.

So: first deck, built like above, but make it have between 70-80 cards. This deck is too big, but it is too big for a reason. After playing with it, each time remove cards that showed a big weakness, or seemed to be too specific, or didn’t work out like you thought they did, all until you wean it down to around 60-65. With 60 cards and a seven-card hand, your first draw will give you about a 2% chance of finding some “perfect” card that would match your hand. But this is assuming that you didn’t do what I said and didn’t start from small combos integrated to a whole. Depending on how satisfactorily your cards are integrated you can put that percentage up to almost 75% that you will draw a card that will match a card in your hand, thus making it always in your advantage to play cards on your turn, thus increasing the odds of drawing ones you haven’t drawn yet. And since you know what you put in because that was what you thought about in constructing it, you also know when you should play what cards.

As others here have noted, mana-lock is a fundamental problem new deckbuilders (and experienced but unlucky deckbuilders) often face. It’s really frustrating to sit with a handful of decent cards and get pecked to death because you don’t have the mana to play them, or to have a handful of lands, and nothing else. That early frustration has had a big impact on my approach to strategy. I now tend to play monocolor decks with a very heavy artifact contingent and emphasize strategies that tend to mana-lock my opponent. Since artifacts can use any color of mana, they’re easier to get into play than cards of a second color. A black/artifact deck (my personal favorite) is faster than, say, a black/green deck (i.e. you can get more cards into play faster and more reliably)–and it doesn’t have the monoblack problems with Circle of Protection: Black and those pesky White Knights (which have permanent Protection from Black). That’s just my approach, though, and I’d almost certainly get clobbered in a tournament. It works well enough for friendly games, though.

Some general strategies I’ve used:

Hordes of 'Em–A deck with a large proportion of small creatures with extremely low casting costs, with most enchantments being equally cheap boosts for those creatures. The idea is to overwhelm an opponent before his defenses are in place. A monocolor/artifact deck is good for this, as the strategy depends on speed above all else. Obviously, this will be a fairly creature-heavy deck–land/creature/spell ratio of maybe 40/35/25, with most of the spells being enchantments to buff your creatures. Look for combinations like Ornithopter-Unholy Strength, two fairly common cards that can be combined to give you a 2/2 flying creature for 1 black mana–something you could put into play in your first turn. The big problem with this approach is that if you don’t win quickly, you’ll get crushed.

Endurance–You just outlast your opponent, defending yourself while plinking away with minor damage. A white/green deck works well for this. White provides protection and green provides healing, with minor creatures and spells in both colors for damage-dealing. Circles of Protection and Stream of Life are useful cards for this approach, along with every wall card you can find. This strategy is very vulnerable to an early blitzkrieg, but if you can hold out for a while, it’s potentially very hard to beat.

Artillery Support–Use direct damage spells to keep your opponent’s creatures down while your creatures chew away life points. A red/black deck is well suited for this strategy, as both colors offer many ways to target specific creatures. If you’re planning to use this approach, you should devote more cards to instants and sorceries and less to enchantments and artifacts. All of the red direct damage spells are good, along with black spells like Terror. A Rod of Ruin artifact is nice for picking off very small creatures, allowing you to save your big guns for bigger threats.

Control–This is the kind of deck asterion mentioned. The main color must be blue, and blue/white is a potent combination. The focus of this approach is on stealing your opponent’s stuff rather than destroying it. The deck is heavy on sorcery and enchantments (and some particular instants) that manipulate your opponent’s creatures, lands, and artifacts–cards like Control Artifact, Phantasmal Terrain (which changes a land to a basic type of your choice), and so forth. “What’s yours is mine.” The downside with this is that things get really chaotic quickly, which greatly complicates your own strategy. I recommend that most new players stay away from this for a while.

Erosion–My personal favorite, the erosion strategy doesn’t just kill your opponent’s creatures, it makes it hard to summon them in the first place by targeting mana production. Black really shines in this area, with blue and red tied for second. Black/red provides a formidable offense, while black/blue is more defensive. I use black/artifact because speed is important to this strategy. The object is to destroy or curse as many of your opponent’s lands as possible, so cards like Wasteland (a non-basic land that can be sacrificed to destroy a land) and Blight (which destroys a land the next time it’s tapped) are useful, but there are many other cards that are useful for this. A black/green deck is worth considering for this strategy only if it includes the Living Lands enchantment, which turns lands (or is it just forests?) into 1/1 creatures…which can then be killed easily. A truly rude thing to do is play a Royal Assassin once Living Lands is in play, and pick off a land every time one is tapped.

I hope those will help you get started. Only playing will tell what strategy works best for you.

Sorry to muddy the waters further with a nitpick, but I want to make sure they don’t get confused by a few slight errors.

If both players choose to pass, AND THE STACK IS EMPTY then the current phase ends, the next phase begins, and the person whose turn it is again gets priority.

If the stack has anything in it when both players pass, the top effect on the stack resolves, then the player whose turn it is gets priority again. So you can let some stuff on the stack resolve, then put more stuff on the stack.

Actually, ALL spells can only be cast when a player has priority.

I believe what you meant to say is that Sorceries, Enchantments, Artifacts, and Creatures can only be played during your turn, during one of the Main phases, when you have priority, and when the stack is empty.

(whereas, for instants and abilities, you need only have priority.)

But all this priority stuff is basically a way to explicitly define the rules in a way that a computer can understand, and that may be a bit unwieldy, but covers all possibilities.

For the most part, you just need to know that instants and abilities are “fast” and everything else is “slow”. You can only do slow stuff on your turn when nothing’s pending, and only during your main phases. You can do fast stuff anytime, but the player whose turn it is gets first dibs on it. When anything happens, you can “respond” with fast stuff. Once everyone’s done responding, the chain of responses resolves last in first out.

Yeah, you’re right. Timing can be probably the single most complicated aspect of M:tG (even after simplifying things by getting rid of the “interrupt” concept). Even within the framework provided, the timing of triggered abilities, state-based effects and other such oddities can confuse things even more. And, of course, specific cards can override just about any given rule.

The gist of timing, however, is as gonzoron mentioned: “slow” stuff can (usually) only be played on your turn (within the limitations mentioned), while “fast” stuff (abilities or instants) can be played on anyone’s turn.