What are Spells?

A spell is anything that has a mana cost. There are five basic types of spells:

Creature: Like Elvish Spirit Guide, Wind Dancer, and Razia, Boros Archangel, shown at left. Creatures have a set of two numbers in the bottom right corner of the card (like 1/1, 2/2 and 6/3). The first number, called "power," shows how much damage the creature can do (Elvish Spirit Guide can do 2, Wind Dancer can do 1, and Razia can do 6). The second number, called "toughness," shows how much damage the creature can take before it dies; Wind Dancer dies after taking 1 damage, Elvish Spirit Guide dies after taking 2, and Razia dies after taking 3.
Wind Dancer also has an ability on her card, called "Flying." Learn more about abilities here. Flying means that Wind Dancer can't be blocked by a creature who doesn't have "flying" on their card. Wind Dancer also has a tap ability (noted by the little black and white arrow), which says that she can give another creature flying until end of turn. This means that Wind Dancer can help a non-flying creature (who might deal a lot more damage than she does). You can't use the tap ability and attack with Wind Dancer herself in the same turn, though, so you have to decide whether you need her to attack, or whether she can simply help another creature to attack.
Of all these creatures shown here, Razia has the most abilities--she's got flying, like Wind Dancer, but she also has "vigilance" and "haste." "Vigilance" means that Razia does not tap to attack, as Wind Dancer and Elvish Spirit Guide must; Razia can stay untapped, and therefore be open to block with next turn if you get attacked. "Haste" means that Razia can attack right after she comes into play; Elvish Spirit Guide and Wind Dancer both must wait one turn before they can attack. Razia also has a tap ability, but unlike Wind Dancer, she can use it on a turn she has already attacked (because she doesn't tap to attack).
Instant: A spell that can be played during your turn, or in response to another person's actions during their turn. (Darkness, at left, is best played on the opponent's turn, right after he or she has declared attack--no damage!) The effect of an Instant usually goes away quickly, sometimes right after the spell has resolved, or at the end of the turn. Instants are sometimes a little less powerful than Sorceries because you can do them at any time--it balances the card out.
Sorcery: A spell that can only be done during your turn. Sorceries often can be useful to boost something on your side of the field for the turn, or to search for a land, a creature, or another spell, but like Instants, they fade either right after they are played, or after the end of the turn. Sorceries are sometimes a little more powerful than Instants, but since you can only do them during your turn, it doesn't make them broken. Volcanic Hammer, at left, is an example.
Enchantment: A spell that hangs around permanently, unless somebody plays another spell or a creature that can get rid of Enchantments. These types of spells are great for boosting creatures permanently, giving creatures an ability (like flying), or myriad other cool effects, like Angelic Renewal at left.
Artifact: A spell that is similar to an Enchantment in that it hangs around permanently until someone gets rid of it. Artifacts can be like objects sitting on the field, or can be creatures as well (like you see with Platinum Angel, at left).

Something else important to know about artifacts: more recent printings of artifacts are done in silvery gray, like Platinum Angel, but older artifacts were done in a dark coffee-brown color. The dark-brown artifacts still count as artifacts, though!

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