For many years the lingo for card games developed, with each situation earning its term or name, sometimes even having multiple names meaning the same thing. I created a card game dictionary for as many terms as I learned through my almost 20 years of competing in card games. The dictionary covers the most basic concepts to more advanced terms for various card games, including Hearthstone, Magic the Gathering, etc.
Throughout the months, I will be adding more terms to the card game dictionary. Since it already includes over 100 terms, the best way to use the dictionary is by using the built-in search function in your browser or mobile device.
187 is a slang term to refer to enter the battlefield effects or ETBs. Also known as come into play abilities. Note: Depending on who you ask, this may refer specifically to ETBs that remove a unit, but that angle of the term is very deprecated.
The shortened term for a unit that costs one mana. Two drops cost two mana to play and so on.
A One of, or one off, is a single copy of a card in a decklist.
2 for 1
A fundamental way to gain an advantage. Either one player uses one card to eliminate two cards of their opponents, or a player plays a card that produces two cards. This concept increases to, for example, three or four for one.
Example: I played a card reading “Destroy all units” while my opponent had two units, and I had none. My opponent lost two cards and I only spent one card = 2 for 1. Example 2: I play a card that reads “draw two cards” I spend one card to gain two cards for a two for one.
Acceleration refers to gaining mana, another term for ramp. Accelerating involves gaining mana faster than the standard rate (usually 1 per turn) .
A deck archetype aiming to end the game quickly through dealing damage early and often. These style decks try to win the game as fast as possible and tend to grow weaker the longer a game goes.
A somewhat rare and very powerful sub-archetype. These decks aim to beat their opponent down with a robust unit suite and then aim to protect those units until they win the game.
These decks are somewhat like tempo decks, but where tempo decks aim to keep their opponent off balance, aggro-control decks aim to prevent their opponent from molesting their own game plan.
The most notable implementation of this strategy has involved playing out robust tribal synergies and protecting these units with countermagic.
These decks are rare, but when they exist they are incredibly effective. Note: some players believe aggro-control decks to be the same as tempo decks, this is false.
A card or combination of cards that neutralize a threat
Stands for Area of Effect. Any cards that affect the board as a whole or affect multiple different units. In the Pokemon TCG this is referred to as spread damage.
Actions per minute.
The general styles of decks. Distinct in how they aim to win the game. The standard major archetypes are Aggro, Control, and Combo, typically functioning like rock, paper, scissors.
A player that follows a top players lead, Hoping to gain their own skill and success. Barns are commonly seen with their leader and gain this reputation. Usually this is a negative term but not always.
Best deck in the format.
A term used to describe continuously attacking your opponent. Aggressive strategies with a lot of units are beatdown decks. Not all aggro decks are beatdown decks. Some aggro decks focus on burn spells or cards. Any deck with many creatures can start beating down.
The bin, or trash bin, is slang for the graveyard or discard zone.
Board control is a bit different for every card game. Generally, you have a stronger suite of units than your opponent. The player with board control can make better trades. Many matchups revolve around board control.
Bouncing a card returns it to its owner’s hand. This effect can be somewhat unique and often a tactic of tempo strategies. Bouncing a card is often a beneficial tactic, many decks bounce their own units, typically cheap units with come into play or leaves play effects.
In the Pokemon TCG, some decks are referred to as *insert type here* box. The box-type describes the pokemon used in the deck. The term originally applied to toolbox style decks but now has somewhat devolved. Any single type deck that has many unique pokemon is typically called *insert type here* box.
The box can also refer to a booster box.
A brick is a useless card or draw. Bricking is typically digging for a specific card and failing. Bricks are also cards that are put into a deck but not meant to be drawn. These cards typically provide a passive benefit while in your deck.
A buff is usually a temporary improvement to a unit. Buffing anything refers to improving it. A debuff is the opposite. A debuff is also called a “nerf” on occasion.
In terms of balance changes, if a card receives a buff, it has been permanently improved by the game developers.
See direct damage, burn spells that directly damage your opponent’s life total. Burn spells ignore the board state and are more common in aggressive strategies.
A Cantrip describes any card that draws one card. These cards are valuable because they replace themselves card wise, allowing you to remain with more options for the coming turns.
Collectible card game.
Gaining more cards than your opponent. Gaining card advantage can be through playing draw spells, producing multiple two for one type effects, or using other resources like tempo or life total to eliminate your opponent’s cards. Trying to constantly get as much value/effect as possible for every one of your cards is also a great way to gain card advantage.
A chase rare is a card everyone wants. Typically heavily played and usually very expensive. The goal when opening a booster pack to pull a chase rare.
To cheat something out is to put it into play without paying its full mana cost.
Chump blocks or chump attacks are smaller units purposely sacrificed through combat. The most common use of this is the chump block, in which a small, otherwise insignificant unit can effectively gain the blocking player a significant amount of life. Chump attacks can also force in other attackers or trigger certain unit dying effects.
Example: “my opponent had a massive unit, but luckily, I could use my tiny tokens to chump block it for three straight turns until I could find an answer and win.”
Clear or Board Clear
To clear a unit is to eliminate it. Clearing the board leaves the board empty.
Clunky describes a specific game situation where you are very limited in action. It often describes a specific hand of cards, but it could also describe certain decks.
A clunky deck is a common situation in card games’ draft formats, where your mana-curve is often very “clunky” since you don’t always get the right amount of cards for each mana slot.
Combo can describe a deck archetype or a specific play pattern, A combo is a combination of cards that produce an effect that is drastically stronger than the sum of that combos parts.
Typically combos win the game immediately, but some combos set up a very favorable position or prevent opponents from doing anything meaningful. Combo decks aim to assemble combos through stall tactics and card draw.
Control is a deck archetype aiming to wear their opponent down and outlast them. The way these decks achieve this is by having robust win conditions and gaining card advantage. These decks aim to slow the game down, and typically grow stronger the longer a game goes.
Constructed formats are the opposite of limited formats; players have their decks built ahead of time.
The term curve is also known as the mana curve; this is the pattern produced by the cards’ cost in a deck related to each other. Mana curves are very important in decks that aim to deploy cards steadily.
Aggressive decks tend to have a lower curve (many 1,2,3,4 cost cards), and control decks tend to have a higher curve (many high-cost cards). Decks with good curves tend to have less clunky draws and can use all of their mana each turn.
Curving out is using all your mana to play a unit of the appropriate cost on subsequent turns.
To cut a card from your deck is to no longer play with it,
Also; To cut a deck is a procedure done after shuffling. The deck is split usually in two parts, then the once bottom part of the deck is placed atop the remaining part in a customary precaution against cheating.
Clock describes the number of turns it will take to deplete your opponents’ life, given how much damage you can currently do this turn. Manipulating this clock is a sign of adept play.
Example: My opponent is at 15 health, I have five damage in play; this is a three-turn clock.
Cycling is a term for increasing your card flow by using draw spells and cantrips to get further into your deck. Combo decks typically cycle early and often to look for their combo pieces.
Dig is a term used for aggressively drawing. Usually, digging means trying to find a game-winning or game-saving card.
Direct damage, also known as burn, direct damage cards, can directly damage your opponent, regardless of the board state.
A disruption is a form of interaction that disrupts or restricts your opponent’s play.
When you continuously draw cards that do not help your decks game plan further or don’t help your current situation. A stream of useless draws.
Deck-out is often described as Milled or being in fatigue. The term describes the situation when a player has completely run out of cards in their deck. In some card games, running out of cards in your deck ends the game, resulting in that player losing.
Donk is an unfortunate Pokemon scenario when a player cannot bench a pokemon early in the game and subsequently loses immediately when their starting Pokemon is knocked out. Essentially, a donk is a first turn kill.
In other games, Donk can also refer to making a silly mistake by a player not thinking about what they are doing.
Draft refers to a limited format in which players construct decks from a given pool of cards and then play against each other. Typically booster packs (booster draft) but can also be from a premade pool of cards (cube draft). There are many different ways to have a draft.
Durdling is the opposite of progressing towards a win condition. Durdley decks are very slow and generally ineffective.
End of turn.
An errata is a change to a card’s text. Erratas are rare and somewhat antiquated. If an errata is placed on a card, how that card functions according to the game rules as well as tournament rules will no longer be what is written explicitly on that card.
That card will function according to the errata. This can cause obvious issues in many ways.
In digital games, developers can simply change the function of cards with every balance change, in paper games, the cards have already been printed and distributed. For this reason, paper games tend to ban cards, where digital games tend to tweak balance over time as they see fit.
Eternal is a type of format in which cards never rotate. These formats only grow over time. In Hearthstone, this format is “Wild.”
Eternal is also a digital card game.
Evasion refers to any keyword ability that allows a unit to evade other units or spells. Evasive units are typically very difficult or impossible to block. Example: flying, stealth, elusive, shadow.
A card or strategy that involves gathering and then combining multiple different components to produce the desired effect. These effects are typically very powerful. Example: If you accumulate all of the pieces, you win the game.
Spells fizzle when they no longer have a valid target upon resolution. Typically spells fizzle when a spell targets a unit, and something removes that unit before the spell resolves.
Float describes mana not spent throughout an entire turn cycle. In some games, you can use it later on in the game or may want to use it during your opponent’s turn, but floating mana is wasteful in many games.
Players want to use all their mana each turn cycle to get the best effect. Constantly floating mana, especially early in the game, can sign poor deck construction (bad mana curve) and is a recipe for disaster.
Flood, also known as “mana flood,” describes an unfortunate scenario in which players draw much more mana (lands, energies) than they need.
Fog is a general term used to describe any effect or card that prevents a player from taking damage until their next turn—example: Fog, Moments peace.
A particular grouping of cards legal for play. Examples; Standard, Legacy, Expanded, Wild.
A play on the term, “one-of” or “one off.” A fun of is a generally sub-optimal card included in a decklist for fun.
Gust is a general term used to describe any effect or card that switches your opponent’s active Pokémon with one of their benched Pokémon. Example: Lysandre, Great catcher.
Hedging is a complicated term involving risk management. To hedge is to alter your play to consider a possible impactful play from your opponent, typically something unlikely but extremely powerful.
Hedging is somewhat of a luxury, typically executed by a player that is ahead in the game. In that same vein, allocating your resources in a manner that is harder for you opponent to generally deal with is also hedging. Perhaps buffing multiple units as opposed to repeatedly buffing the same unit, which plays into a removal spell from your opponent.
Highlander & Singleton
Highlander or Singleton decks only contain a single copy of each card. Highlander formats do not allow duplicate card inclusions. There can only be one!
Hyper-aggro is an aggressive sub-archetype. These decks play many cheap units on the first few turns of the game and ride that to an early victory. These decks have extremely low mana curves. These decks tend to focus less on controlling the board compared to the standard aggressive decks.
The different focus is due to using all of their cards immediately, and those cards being individually very low impact. Hyper-aggressive decks are intrinsically fragile and inconsistent. However, they are practically unbeatable when they draw well.
Intentional draw. Intentional draws are common towards the later Swiss rounds of a tournament in situations where a draw results in either or both players securing a spot in the knockout stages. Commonly top 8, top 16, or top 32 players.
Interaction is a broad term used to describe cards or decks that affect your opponent’s gameplay. Removal spells and permission are good examples of this.
Example: “I won with my combo deck very easy, his deck could not interact.”
Jam can be used a number of ways. Jamming games is simply playing for a while, jamming a threat refers to playing it out now.
Jank or janky describes a deck or strategy that has glaring weaknesses or is just ineffective. Some use it to refer to Meme decks. These strategies are usually played for fun and aren’t as competitive.
The keyword is an ability many different units have listed on the card. These keyword abilities always grant the same effect regardless of the unit.
Keywords include stuff like “Taunt”, “Flying”, and “Revive”.
A ladder is a type of online ranking structure. At its simplest, ladder systems match players of similar rank against each other, the winner moves up, and the loser moves down the ranks.
Local gaming store.
Locking fits into either “soft lock,” a situation where there is still potential for escape, or a hard lock, essentially game over. These are types of combos that instead of winning the game outright, they lock their opponents out of doing anything meaningful until they lose—typically done by removing opponents’ ability to play cards or spells.
Lord is a unit that buffs other units that share its creature type or tribe. Example: “This merfolk lord gives all other Merfolk in play +1/+1.”
The original decklist used for the first game of a set before any side boarding or modification. The counterpart to the sideboard or side deck.
Mana is somewhat of an umbrella term to describe the spending resource. How mana works varies from game to game, but in most traditional games, this is what you spend to cast cards, and you get access to more as the game goes on.
Marking a card or a deck is a form of cheating. A marked card (or group of cards or even entire decks) has physical qualities that distinguish from the rest of the deck.
This allows the player to know where certain cards are in their deck. Common forms of marking include: bent cards, unevenly worn cards or sleeves, Translucent sleeves that reveal marking on the cards inside, a single wrapped foil card, using multiple similar looking sleeves for one deck, or using some worn out grimy sleeves and some fresh new sleeves in the same deck.
If you suspect your opponent of doing this, call the judge! Some new players can have marked cards without doing it intentionally or knowingly.
Metagame, also known as the meta. What cards and decks are being used competitively in a given format. Generally, players divide these decks into tiers based on results. The decks you see in a tournament are a good example of the metagame.
Midrange decks are a sub archetype, somewhat of a cross between control and aggressive decks. Midrange decks are often creature decks with a higher curve than a standard aggressive deck, but still generally aiming to beat down with units to win. Midrange decks typically play removal spells and have some control elements.
These decks aim to control aggressive opponents with larger units, and aggressive-control decks out with their resilient units and sometimes disruption.
Milling is taking eliminating cards off the top of a player’s deck. Some decks aim to use milling as their entire game plan, aiming to deck out their win condition.
Mirror or Mirror-match
A Mirror or mirror-match is a matchup where both players are using the same deck.
A mulligan or “mull” is a game-specific mechanic in which a player trades out cards drawn at the game’s start. Mulligan rules vary drastically from game to game. Rarely referred to as London or Paris.
Net decking is copying the decklist from another player, usually a professional, and typically from the internet. These are the decks that comprise a competitive metagame—the opposite of a homebrew deck.
Nonbo cards that do not function when used together, Anti-synergy.
Example: “this card doesn’t function properly when I have this other card in play, what a nonbo.”
OHKO / O.H.K.O.
One hit knock-out.
O.T.K. or OTK
One-turn kills are typically the aim of combo style decks. O.T.K strategies generally ignore winning the game and focus on survival until they can win the game in one turn through a series of cards.
F.T.K. or FTK
In some games, F.T.K. or First-turn kill is possible.
Outs are the remaining cards in your deck that either win the game for you or save you from losing. Conceding is generally correct when you have no more outs.
In other words you have no draws or any series of draws that could win the game.The term “play to your outs” describes a scenario in which a player only has a few impactful cards left in their deck, then makes plays according to those cards without having them in order to win or save the game.
This way if said player were to draw the outs they need, they will be in position to potentially turn the tide. Planning accordingly to your outs is a sign of adept play and quality foresight.
This refers to the balance of playing creatures into sweepers. Overextending is playing more threats into a sweeper than necessary.
Most slower decks that play sweepers will need to sweep boards of 3-5 enemy minions the same way they would a board of 5-15 minions.
In order to ensure you have cards to play after being swept, be judicious with your threats and develop an understanding for how threatening a board has to be in order to demand a sweeper.
Pace of Play
The pace of play describes how long a player is taking during their turns. Typically only relevant in a tournament setting, due to certain rules and regulations regarding playing too slowly.
To pitch a card is to discard it from your hand. Please note that in some games (such as Flesh and Blood) the term, “pitch” is tied to specific game rules/mechanics (the pitch zone, etc,).
An instance of one damage.
Permanent is a card type that stays in play until an action removes them. Units are a great example of permanents.
Permission is another term for counter-magic; these are spells that prevent another card from resolving—completely canceling the countered cards effect.
The playset is the maximum number of copies of each card allowed in a deck and typically limited to three or four. Owning a playset of a card means you have the maximum number of copies of a card you can legally play in a deck.
This term means something different in every genre of gaming. In card games, a proc is the trigger of a specific ability. As a whole, this term refers to an ability firing or the likelihood of that ability to fire.
A proxy is a fake card used to play with an otherwise incomplete deck in the place of its authentic counterpart.
Typically proxies are in the place of very expensive or rare cards. This is useful to test cards or decks, sometimes a player may make a deck of all proxies for playtesting, although that is rare in today’s digital age.
Proxies are generally card names written on other cards or printed copies pasted onto another card as well. It is extremely rare for proxies to be legal in a tournament setting.
Pulls are the important cards you pull from packs. Players may describe a card they opened in a pack as pulled, cracked or packed. Example: “I cracked this awesome rare in my booster box.”
A punt is a fatal mistake. Failing to execute a game-winning play is also punting.
Ramp decks are a specific sub archetype, but the term ramp can also refer to a play or play pattern.
Ramping mana or mana acceleration is using cards that increase your available mana. Ramp decks use this tactic to make very mana expensive plays early in the game, typically winning the spot.
Ramp decks can fall into the midrange, control, or combo archetypes depending on the deck and win condition.
Removals are spells or effects that remove opposing units or threats.
Recursion is taking cards that have already been used and then allowing them to be used again. Mostly, this will involve bringing a card from the graveyard or discard pile back to your hand. Recursion is a common element of combo locks and stall strategies.
A rogue deck or strategy is something that is considered off-meta and rare. Rogue decks are generally a homebrew deck that someone is using to try and blindside a format.
When a format undergoes rotation, the oldest cards legal in that format now rotates to the legacy format. It makes room for new cards to take their place and ensure the formats don’t grow too large. Rotations are typically done cyclically, and most notably, with standard formats.
A slang term for conceding. The term comes from the act of scooping up all of your cards.
Sideboard or side deck is a number of cards meant to replace cards in the main deck. Typically these cards are going to have a more narrow or specialized effect.
Sealed is a limited format in which players are granted product, typically booster packs, and create a deck from the contents.
Sleeves are placed on cards and decks to protect cards. Sleeves are easily shuffleable and standard practice in tournament play.
Some tournament rules may actually require sleeves, considering the natural wear on any played unsleeved cards is inherently maked. If you are planning on attending a tournament for the first time, you want to sleeve your deck.
The LGS holding the tournament will most likely sell sleeves if you are needing, and sleeves are generally cheap.
Seasoned players may have a lot of unused sleeves as well so it never hurts to ask other tournament goers or friends to borrow a set if you cannot afford them.
Sligh describes an aggressive deck that uses some early creatures to deal damage, then finish the game with burn cards. These decks don’t value controlling the board as much as standard aggressive decks do; they are looking to assemble a lethal amount of damage as soon as possible regardless of board control.
Snowballing is a play pattern that allows you to press a small advantage constantly, growing it into a large, significant advantage.
Example: “She had a stronger first turn unit than I did, and was then able to snowball that board advantage every turn the whole game and beat me.”
The stack is a term used to describe where cards go before they resolve. Counterspells effectively remove cards from the stack. Each card played in a turn adds to the stack can be added to, and it resolves from top to bottom.
Playing something in response to another card adds to the stack, and then since it is on top, resolves before the initial card. The concept is probably confusing to some, as most card games do not use this stacking system.
Stacking your deck is a form of cheating in which a player knowingly places certain cards at the top of their deck. Whenever your opponent shuffles their deck, be sure to cut it in measure to prevent this. Tournament rules give you a right to cut your opponents deck.
Stabilizing means reaching the point where the slower deck in the game is no longer in fear of losing. The point when a deck takes control of the game. After a control deck has stabilized against an aggressive deck, the aggressive deck is unlikely to win.
Stall decks are a type of control decks that aim to survive until their opponent dies. Most all of the cards in these decks aim to survive. Stall decks may aim to assemble a very slow combo that creates an unlosable position or slowly mill their opponent out.
Staple, sometimes referred to as format staples, these are ubiquitous cards in any given format. Their power, consistency, efficiency, and unique effect have been tried and proven very effective. Staples are the most played cards.
Stick or sticking is when a card stays in play and isn’t removed. Players often refer to units that are difficult to remove as “sticky.”
Stompy decks aim to stick large units. Also known as going tall.
Swarm or swarming refers to decks that aim to flood their board with small units. Also known as going wide.
A sweeper is another term for A.O.E., a card that clears multiple units.
A Swing or swing turn is a huge play that turns a disadvantaged position into a now advantageous position. Typically this involves destroying the opponent’s board or increasing your own substantially. Used as a verb however, swinging is slang for attacking.
Swiss rounds take place before the elimination rounds of a tournament. Typically the eight players with the best record from the Swiss rounds will play in the top eight or the top cut.
Synergy is a group or pair of cards that complement one another. The result of this allows the effect to be greater than the sum of its parts. Most competitive decks are full of synergies.
Example: “those cards are pretty average alone, but when you play them together, they are amazing!”
Tapped out is a state in which a player has no more available mana.
Tanking on a play or decision simply refers to thinking out all the options. Derivative of, “entering the think tank.”
T.C.G. or TCG
Trading card game.
Time walk describes when a player takes an extra turn. Example: “I tapped out for a threat, and he countered it for three mana counterspell. I couldn’t do anything else with my turn. He practically got a three mana time walk.”
Tech cards or a new tech typically describe certain cards included to beat one specific matchup. Also known as silver bullets or bullets for short. Tech can also be used to describe innovations made to a particular deck.
Tempo is an aggressive sub archetype, but can also describe a play or a play pattern. Tempo is usually a play that sacrifices a small amount of card advantage or value to slow down your opponent and make their plays awkward, giving you an advantage on the board.
Tempo decks force their opponents into awkward situations and present unforeseen obstacles, typically through disrupting resources or bouncing opposing cards, forcing them to recast.
Topdeck or Top Deck
Topdeck also called a rip; a topdeck is the card a player just drew. This term refers to when a player draws the perfect card for the situation. Example: “I would have won if my opponent didn’t rip his last sweeper. It was such a lucky topdeck.”
A token is a game piece generated then put into play by another card. While a deck may be centered around using tokens, tokens are never found in a decklist, as they are not cards. Example: “my opponent played this card that made two 1/1 flying tokens.”
A card that can pressure a player and can win the game if left unchecked. Threats are typically units but can be other card types. Low statted units that you can play for utility or card draw are typically not considered threats.
A trade occurs when one player uses a card or resource to eliminate their opponents’ cards or resources. The art of properly trading units can be very difficult.
Uptrades happen when a cheaper unit eliminates a more expensive unit; trading up is a good way to get better value than your opponent. Trades also take place when a removal spell eliminates a unit.
A tribe is a group of unit cards that share a type. These cards are typically very synergistic with one another and used to get the best effect. Example: Demons, Pirates, Elves, Goblins, Mechs.
An ability triggers when it goes off or fires. If a player misses a trigger, they made a sequencing error and missed out on an ability firing.
Tutoring cards refer to tools that search through your deck and find a specific card. Tutors are very powerful because they allow you to have more effective copies of a card in a deck, increasing consistency.
Value is a common term used to describe the return a player is getting on a card. Getting high amounts of value is a sign of good play. Professionals consistently get the maximum possible value for every one of their cards.
Voltron is a strategy that centers around a small, cheap, typically evasive unit. The harder these units are to answer, the better. Then Voltron strategies attempt to enhance this unit through a series of buff cards to grow the unit, making it harder to deal with, creating an unbeatable threat.
To whiff is to dig for something and not find what you are looking for.
A win-condition is the means of which a deck plans on ending a game. Aggressive decks don’t have explicit win conditions. They aim to get some damage out of each of their cards until they win. On the other hand, control decks usually have either a huge expensive unit that is hard to deal with and ends the game as their win condition.
Slower decks can have a combo win-condition or a mill, or even a stall win-condition. The most common is a large game-ending unit as it generally the fastest route to victory.
Win more cards that are cards that are only helpful when a player already won. An alternative name for these types of cards would be “luxury” cards since you only receive their benefits when you are already likely to win the game.
Example: “this card is only good when I’m already going to win. I don’t think it’s worth using.”
For more content from Maym, be sure to read all about his history of Demon Hunter article.
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