If you’ve never looked at a Magic: The Gathering card, you’re probably pretty confused. It might feel like you are looking at another language or hieroglyphics from another civilization.
How can seasoned Magic players know what a card does, what set it comes from, and even what it does without reading a word? By looking at the symbols.
MTG cards are packed from edge-to-edge with different symbols. Each has its own meaning. Some are more important than others, such as mana symbols and the tap symbol. Others are more informative and help you keep your collection organized and quickly identify a card.
Without further ado, let’s dive in and take a look at all of the most important MTG card symbols.
Not to worry, we’ll also give you an explanation of what each one means.
Generic Mana Symbol
This is perhaps the most common symbol in all of Magic. It appears on the mass majority of cards. It is a gray pip with a number (or an X) inside. This represents a mana cost that can be paid by any type of mana.
If your spell has a generic mana cost of 4, like Karn, the Great Creator, you can pay it with any combination of colored or colorless mana.
If the spell has an X inside the generic pip, it means you can pay any amount of any type of mana to pay that cost. For instance, in Light Up the Night, you can pay X to deal that much damage plus an additional red mana.
Colored Mana Symbols
MTG is defined by its five colors of mana: white, blue, black, red, and green. Each one is represented by a circular symbol featuring its color as a background and an icon.
These mana symbols represent a mana cost that can only be paid with that color of mana. For instance, Shivan Dragon features two red mana symbols in its top right corner. This means you must have at least two red mana (specifically) plus four mana of any other combination to cast it.
Colored mana symbols can also be found elsewhere on cards, such as in Shivan Dragon’s text box. There, the symbol represents an activated ability. You can pay one red mana (specifically) to give it +1/+0 until end of turn.
Still following? Good! It’s about to get more complicated.
Hybrid Mana Symbols
A variation of colored mana symbols, these feature two types of colored mana in the same pip. What does this symbol mean? It means you can pay that cost by using a colored mana of either one of the colors shown.
Murkfiend Liege is a great example. It features three hybrid mana symbols, all featuring both blue and green. To cast this creature, you need to pay a total of five mana, with at least three of it being some combination of green and blue specifically.
Like colored mana, hybrid mana symbols can also show up in the text box to activate abilities.
Monocolored Hybrid Mana Symbols
This is far less common than a regular hybrid symbol. It features one color as well as a gray region with a two. This indicates that you can pay the cost by using either one mana of the specified color or two mana of any color.
For times when you’re tight on a certain color of mana, this can help you cast your spell. Beseech the Queen is a good example. You can cast this spell for just three black mana. Or, you can cast it for six colorless or generic mana. You can also cast it for any combination in between, including one black and four colorless and two black and two colorless.
Phyrexian Mana Symbols
The last few Standard sets have seen the return of Phyrexia. That trend will continue well into 2023 and beyond as the multiverse fights off the looming threat of New Phyrexia.
Whenever the Phyrexians are around, Phyrexian mana isn’t far behind. This is a unique symbol that features the Phyrexian symbol atop a colored background. It means you can either pay one mana of that color or two life and no mana.
Casting spells with their Phyrexian cost adds up and can quickly drain your life total. However, it is also a fantastic way to cheat on mana and get ahead.
K’rrik, Son of Yawgmoth is a prime example. You can play it on turn four by paying four generic mana and six life. Or, you can play it fairly and pay four generic mana as well as three black. Is the risk worth the reward? (Usually it is).
Phyrexian Hybrid Mana Symbol
Any surprises here? This symbol features two Phyrexian symbols and a split between two colored backgrounds. You can pay one mana of either color or two life to meet its requirement.
This is seen rarely, but is featured on the new compleated planeswalkers, including Tamiyo, Compleated Sage.
So far, the Snow supertype has only been featured in a few sets. That includes Ice Age, Coldsnap, Future Sight, Commander 2019, Modern Horizons, and Kaldheim.
The snow mana symbol looks like a small snowflake inside a pip. It represents generic mana that can only be paid by a permanent that produces snow mana. Typically, this means a snow-covered land or a snow dual land.
Narfi, Betrayer King features the snow mana symbol in his text box. If you spend three snow mana, you can return Narfi from the graveyard to the battlefield.
But wait, isn’t that just generic mana? That’s where you’re wrong, friend. Colorless mana is represented by a diamond on a gray pip. It is a specific symbol introduced on cards from Oath of the Gatewatch onward.
It represents a cost that can only be paid by colorless mana. This must come from a source that produces not generic, but specifically colorless mana, such as a Wastes.
Thought-Knot Seer is a good example. You can pay three generic mana and one colorless mana to cast it.
Though not a mana symbol, color indicators were introduced to help denote what color identity a card has. This is important with the introduction of suspend cards, such as Crashing Footfalls, which don’t have a mana cost.
Instead, you pay their suspend cost and cast it from exile after removing counters. However, thanks to the green circle at the beginning of the card’s type line, it is still considered a “green” spell. Color indicators are also commonly found on dual-faced cards (DFCs) to help denote which color the back side is.
Each color has its own color indicator and all of them show up on the left side of the type line.
Color indicators can also contain two colors or even three colors, depending on the identity of the card, though this is fairly rare.
Tap / Untap Symbols
At one point, Magic cards actually spelled out the word “tap” when you needed to tap your card. Can you imagine fitting even one more word onto a card like Questing Beast?
Wizards came up with the tap symbol to solve this problem. Though it has gone through several variations, it now looks like a black curved arrow inside a gray circle. The tap symbol is found on upwards of 3,300 Magic cards and plays a huge role in the game.
Meanwhile, the untap symbol was introduced briefly as its antithesis and is a reversed curved arrow on a black background. It was quickly discontinued due to players confusing it for the tap symbol.
It has, however, made the occasional appearance as a gimmick, including in the Street Fighter Secret Lair.
With the introduction of planeswalkers in Lorwyn back in 2007 came another symbol—loyalty. This symbol is only found on planeswalkers and the occasional card that affects walkers.
The loyalty symbol looks like a shield or badge and contains either a number or “x” inside. This represents the amount of loyalty (aka planeswalker life) your walker has.
Variants of the loyalty symbol, the loyalty ability symbols, also appear on planeswalker cards. There are both “up” and “down” symbols as well as a non-directional symbol. Each represents what direction the loyalty moves when activating that ability.
Sagas have become much more popular in recent years, making appearances in several of the last Standard sets. They feature a unique symbol to mark their chapters, aptly named the chapter symbol.
It is a gold hexagon with a Roman numeral inside, denoting which chapter the saga is currently on.
It’s been some time since we’ve seen the level symbol. This appears on cards that are able to gain level counters via an activated ability. Kazandu Tuskcaller lets you start churning out elephant tokens when you level up.
Gaining levels allows the creature to gain extra abilities or have a better power/toughness. The level symbol itself looks the same regardless of what level is being represented. It is a large, blocky arrow with “Level” and a number inside.
Planeswalker Symbol (aka the logo)
An icon of the game, the planeswalker symbol serves as one of MTG’s logos. However, it also represents the ability to planeswalk and actually serves as an opposite to the chaos symbol in Planechase (keep reading for more on that).
The five “fingers” of the planeswalker symbol are speculated to represent the five colors of Magic or the five paths a planeswalker can choose.
Mark Rosewater has also commented that, looking at it from the top down, the symbol can represent “five becoming one” and the colors of Magic working together.
Finally, the five tips of the planeswalker symbol may refer to the Lorwyn Five, the five original planeswalkers (Jace, Ajani, Liliana, Chandra, and Garruk).
Outside of Planechase, the planeswalker symbol only appears on cards in the form of a holo-stamp found only on cards pulled from promo packs given out as entry prizes or prizes for top finishes at tournaments such as FNM.
Transforming DFC Symbols
One of the more complicated aspects of Magic, transforming DFCs, have their own symbols. These sit in the upper left corner of the card and help keep track of which face is currently showing.
Most recently, we saw this in Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty on the flip sagas. The emblem of a closed fan represents the front side of the card while an open fan represents the enchantment creature on the back.
Other variants include meld cards (which we’ll soon see again in The Brother’s War), Ixalan’s map cards, Innistrad’s werewolves, cards corrupted by Eldrazi influence from Eldritch Moon, and in Magic Origins.
Modal DFC Symbol (MDFC)
Unlike regular DFCs, which must meet some condition to flip sides, modal DFCs allow you to play either side at will. They get their own symbol, which appears in the same upper left corner.
One triangle represents the front side. Two triangles represent the back side.
This is important for making the distinction of which side is which when cheating a spell into play, determining color identity, or converted mana value. For instance, an MDFC in exile or on the stack only has the characteristics of its front face. Sorry, Tibalt.
Both loved and hated, the energy symbol was introduced to players in the Kaladesh block. It represents an energy counter, a special type of resource only found on and used by certain cards, such as Aether Hub.
It is a slightly curved pentagon with a lightning bolt inside (no, not the card). Each instance of an energy symbol represents one energy counter.
Found in Strixhaven: School of Mages thanks to its learn/lesson mechanic is the Scroll symbol. It is found in the upper left corner of lesson cards, which can be tutored from the sideboard when a card with a learn ability is played. It looks like a scroll of parchment with a quill writing down how you’ll vanquish your opponent.
Found in cards from the Odyssey block, the tombstone icon represents a card with abilities that involve the graveyard. Though many cards with graveyard abilities don’t have this symbol, it was introduced in Odyssey thanks to the massive focus on the graveyard for that block.
The tombstone symbol looks like, well, a tombstone and appears in the upper left corner before the card’s name. Ichorid is a good example. Legacy Dredge players incoming.
We’ve covered the many symbols that you might encounter in a normal game of Magic. But what if you’re sleeving up some Unfinity jank or playing with cards from Portal sets? These few symbols only occur outside of “regular” Magic cards.
Newly designed for Unfinity to replace the traditional silver border of “un” cards, the acorn-shaped security stamp represents a non-legal card.
Interestingly, this isn’t the only time an acorn has showed up in Magic. It is also found as a non-holofoil symbol on Acornelia, Fashionable Filcher (yes, an un-card). There, it acts like an energy counter, but for squirrels.
Found on the planar die and cards referencing rolling it, the chaos symbol is exclusive to the Planechase variant. It looks like a whirlpool or swirling arms, just as chaotic as it seems. You won’t see this symbol often, though as Planechase is far from popular.
Power and Toughness Symbols
Oh, Portal. It was a good thought, making a starter-level set. Unfortunately, those odd-looking cards with odd rules and weird terms didn’t last long.
Portal was around just long enough to introduce two symbols into MTG lore, power and toughness. Typically represented by a set of numbers in the bottom-right of a creature card, Portal took things further with the sword and shield icons next to those numbers. Necessary? No.
Bye, bye power and toughness symbols.
Future Sight Symbols
What an odd time Future Sight was. Thanks to the alternative frame used on these cards, they needed a special symbol to denote their card type. Thus, each card type got a symbol.
A lightning bolt for instants, a flame for sorceries, a claw slash for creatures, a sunrise for enchantments, a mountain for lands, a chalice for artifacts, and a crossroads for multi-type cards. We’ll stick with text, please. There are already enough symbols.