ABCs of Magic

A little bit of everything about Magic: the Gathering, one letter at a time.
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T is for Tap

Simon Tan
Quezon City
Metro Manila
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I guess for the first time T showed up, tap was simply too obvious. Kudos to Vollick1979 to calling it out...

However, as I started to write this, I didn't realize how much research was needed to cover the beginning of Magic from a technical view. Looking over the litigious history behind Magic was enough to give me the creeps, hence the slight delay...


And, without further ado, here is the first embodiment of United States Patent 5662332... (Warning: The patent itself has lots of verbose and technical words, sufficient to induce headaches, nausea, nosebleeds, and migraines.)

For purposes of the topic, here's Claim #1...


United States Patent 5662332
1. A method of playing games involving two or more players, the method being suitable for games having rules for game play that include instructions on drawing, playing, and discarding game components, and a reservoir of multiple copies of a plurality of game components, the method comprising the steps of:

each player constructing their own library of a predetermined number of game components by examining and selecting game components from the reservoir of game components;

each player obtaining an initial hand of a predetermined number of game components by shuffling the library of game components and drawing at random game components from the player's library of game components; and

each player executing turns in sequence with other players by drawing, playing, and discarding game components in accordance with the rules until the game ends, said step of executing a turn comprises:

(a) making one or more game components from the player's hand of game components available for play by taking the one or more game components from the player's hand and placing the one or more game components on a playing surface; and

(b) bringing into play one or more of the available game components by:

(i) selecting one or more game components; and

(ii) designating the one or more game components being brought into play by rotating the one or more game components from an original orientation to a second orientation.

The bolded part is the heart of tapping. Claim #2 would give the act of "rotating game components from an original orientation to a second orientation" the name tapping. Further sections of the patent describe it further, including...


United States Patent 5662332
4. The method of claim 3, wherein said step of designating one or more of the cards comprises rotating the one or more cards on the playing surface from an original orientation to a second orientation.

5. The method of claim 3, wherein said second orientation is 90 degrees from the first orientation.

6. The method of claim 3, wherein said step of executing a turn comprises the initial step of rotating the player's cards previously designated in a prior turn from the second orientation to the original orientation.

I don't think you can circumvent the patent by having cards turn 89 degrees or even 45 degrees; the wording is about changing from one orientation to another.) Even if you manage to bypass the tap mechanic itself like VS or Yu-Gi-Oh! has, it is still held by Claim #2 of the patent, which does not pertain to tapping.

The litigation between Wizards of the Coast and Nintendo over the publishing of the Pokemon TCG has very little to do with challenging the patent, as The Pokemon Company initially asked WotC to create the game. The litigation does have its share of drama, including claims of "patent infringement, breach of contract, misappropriation of trade secrets, tortuous interference with a business relationship, and unjust enrichment," among others. The last three items may have something to do with the pirating of former Wizards employees...

As it is, you pretty much have to pony up to Wizards if you want to get into the CCG market.


Enough about law and order...

While we may not turn our creatures sideways and push them forward in the exaggerated manner that the pros do on video, it is completely unlikely that you can win a game without turning a single card sideways.

The tap symbol, however, would not exist until Revised. For anything that tapped, it would have to be written out...

The turned T would be obsoleted come 4th Edition in favor of an arrow, complete with turn direction.

Basic lands would lose the written text in favor of the huge mana symbol come 6th Edition, but everything else would keep the tap symbol. A cleaner tap symbol emerged with the change of the card frames, but the tap symbol will remain unchanged after that. Below are the three symbols over the years, courtesy of an Arcana article from

Image from The Changing Tap Symbol, July 12, 2004, Magic Arcana,


While the patent, and eventually the rules of tournament play, covered how to tap, players didn't always tap 90 degrees.

Some players would keep all their cards in one orientation, and use beads or counters to keep track of what is tapped and what is untapped. This is patently true if you played on any unpolished surface and had cards, like say a Mox Ruby, that you tapped on a regular basis. Of course, this was before card sleeves became a must-have product, and thankfully the practice died out. Imagine the shenanigans when playing with the levelers of Rise of the Eldrazi block, or Lorwyn-Shadowmoor block with their +1/+1 and -1/-1 counters...

As for direction, it is a reflection of our handedness. According to a survey, 80% tap clockwise, 14.5% counterclockwise, and 5.5% taps any which way they can.


In the early days of playing Magic, we played with tap based on the following (mis)conceptions...

- Creatures dealt damage, tapped or untapped, attacker or blocker. (Ironically, this would become the correct way to play come Sixth Edition.)
- You can attack with a land-turned-creature on the same turn it comes into play; this made Mishra's Factory even better than it needed to be. (Of course, the rules of "summoning sickness" became clearer over time.)
- You can tap someone's land before he could use the mana to cast the spell, in a kind of "I shouted it first" means of gaining priority...

For our playgroup, that last bit applied to just one card...

... and it would not be until I returned to Magic after a long hiatus that I learned that the last bit was wrong.


As for things being tapped, we tend to take it for granted as we always got to untap them at the start of our turn. It was when players started getting serious that we saw these two cards...

(On a side note, I'm surprised PETA didn't have a field day over Winter Orb...)

And it is this that catapulted this card from good to great...

Of course, it was probably the number of counterspells that supported this lock, especially this one counter...

What used to be the best way to force an opponent empty and set up a back-breaking Stasis has now been nerfed by the rules. Where you couldn't respond to this by casting anything other than another interrupt, you could now just cast any other instant or activated ability. How the mighty have fallen...




We used to Twiddle stuff in the old days, but the ability to tap wholesale defined the Ravnica - Time Spiral Standard, especially with the deck, and it was Gigadrowse that defined the last two games of the 2006 Worlds Final blowout.

These days, we don't see so much tapping except on creatures as activated abilities.



Which tap symbol do you like best?
How do you tap? For that matter, do you play with lands in front of permanents or permanents in front of lands?
Do you think Richard Garfield should've been able to patent what is today the CCG concept? Should it extend to tapping as a mechanic?

The letter "U" is probably going to be Urza, but after talking about him a bit earlier in "P", could there be another topic? (Except Untap... for obvious reasons.)
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