Magic: The Gathering formats
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Magic: The Gathering formats are various ways in which the Magic: The Gathering collectible card game can be played. Each format provides rules for deck construction and gameplay, with many confining the pool of permitted cards to those released in a specified group of Magic card sets. The DCI, the governing body that oversees official Magic competitive play, categorizes its tournament formats into Constructed and Limited.
Constructed formats require decks to be made prior to participation, with players allowed to use any tournament-legal cards they possess. Sanctioned Constructed formats include Standard, Modern, Legacy, and Vintage. Limited formats, in contrast, utilize a restricted and unknown pool of cards, usually formed by opening Magic products. Limited competition require players to select cards and build decks on the fly within the tournament itself. The primary two sanctioned Limited formats are Sealed Deck and Booster Draft.
A number of other formats have been designed by Wizards of the Coast or by players for custom gameplay or reduced investment cost; these are known as casual formats. Some casual formats utilize rules or sets of cards that differ from those used in sanctioned tournament play.
- 1 Official formats
- 2 Casual formats
- 2.1 Casual Constructed
- 2.2 Casual Limited
- 2.3 Casual Multiplayer
- 2.4 Variant Magic: The Gathering products
- 2.5 Other casual formats
- 3 Retired formats
- 4 References
The term "sanctioned" refers to formats that the DCI allows to be run at official events. Many of the deck construction rules are shared across both sanctioned and casual formats. The following is a non-exhaustive summary of some of the major formats.
Constructed formats, as opposed to Limited formats, allow players to build decks from the entirety of the legal cards available in the specified format. The formats differ based on the card pool allowed, which affects each format's accessibility, power level, and complexity. In Constructed format tournaments, players build their deck in advance of the tournament. Of the constructed formats, the most popular are Standard, Modern, Legacy, and Vintage.
The following rules apply to most sanctioned Constructed formats:
- Constructed decks must contain a minimum of 60 cards. There is no maximum deck size, however, the player must be able to shuffle their deck unassisted.
- Players may have a sideboard of up to a maximum of 15 cards, and exchanges of cards between games are not required to be on a one-for-one basis, so long as the player adheres to the 60 card minimum deck size.
- With the exception of basic land cards a player's combined deck and sideboard may not contain more than four of any individual card, counted by its English card title equivalent. All cards named Plains, Island, Swamp, Mountain, Forest, and Wastes are basic.
- A card may only be used in a particular format if the card is from a set that is legal in that format or has the same name as a card from a set that is legal in that format.
- Cards banned in a specific format may not be used in decks for that format. Cards restricted in a specific format may only have one copy in a deck, including sideboard.
The Standard format is continually one of the most popular formats in the constructed deck tournament scene. It is the format most commonly found at Friday Night Magic tournaments, played weekly at many hobby shops. Standard's former name was "Type 2". This format generally consists of the most recent three or four "Block" releases. The release of the first set of a new Block in Autumn (usually in September) triggers a rotation; the new Block becomes Standard legal, and the oldest two blocks rotate out. (The previous rule was using two recent "Block" releases plus any core sets released between the older set of the block and the first set that would make that block rotated out). The current Standard set includes the Kaladesh block, the Amonkhet block, the Ixalan block, and the Dominaria block.  For a list of which sets were legal in the past, or notable deck archetypes, see Timeline of Magic: the Gathering Standard (Type II).
Modern is a constructed format created by Wizards of the Coast in the Spring of 2011 as a response to the increasing popularity of the Legacy format, which although popular proved difficult to access due to the high price of staple cards, as well as dissatisfaction with the Extended format of the time. Wizards of the Coast is unwilling to reprint some of these cards due to the Reserved List, a list of cards Wizards promised never to reprint in order to protect card prices. Therefore, Modern was designed as a new format that would exclude all cards on the Reserved List, allowing the format to be more accessible than Legacy.
Modern allows cards from all core sets beginning with the 8th Edition core set and all expansions printed afterwards. The 8th Edition core set was when Magic cards began to be printed in modern card frames, and this is where the name for the format is derived. Wizards believed this cutoff would have the advantage of giving a visual cue as to which cards are legal in the Modern format.
The format maintains its own banned list. Cards are banned on the basis of their power level, as in all constructed formats outside Vintage. The first official tournament to be held using the format was Pro Tour Philadelphia in September 2011. The first Grand Prix to use the format was Grand Prix Lincoln in February 2012.
Legacy allows cards from all sets that are legal for constructed play (known as an "Eternal" format). It maintains a ban list based on power level reasons. The format evolved from Type 1.5, which allowed cards from all sets and maintained a banned list corresponding to Vintage: all cards banned or restricted in the old Type 1 were banned in Type 1.5. The modern Legacy format began in 2004, as the DCI separated Legacy's banned list from Vintage and banned many new cards to reduce the power level of the format.
Wizards has supported the format with Grand Prix events and the release of preconstructed Legacy decks on Magic Online in November 2010. The first Legacy Grand Prix was Grand Prix Philadelphia in 2005.
The Vintage format, formerly known as Type 1, is another Eternal constructed format. Vintage maintains a small banned list and a larger restricted list. Unlike in the other formats, the DCI does not ban cards in Vintage for power level reasons. Rather, cards banned in Vintage are those that either involve ante, manual dexterity (Falling Star, Chaos Orb), or could hinder event rundown (Shahrazad and Conspiracy cards). Cards that raise power level concerns are instead restricted to a maximum of one copy per deck. Vintage is currently the only format in which cards are restricted. Because of the expense in acquiring the old cards to play competitive Vintage, many Vintage tournaments are unsanctioned and permit players to use a certain number of proxy cards. These are treated as stand-ins of existing cards and are not normally permitted in tournaments sanctioned by the DCI.
The Block Constructed format uses only the cards from a single block of Magic sets. Magic sets from Mirage to Khans of Tarkir have come in groups of three sets known as blocks. Block Constructed formats, and blocks themselves, usually take the name of the first set in the block. For example, the Ravnica Block Constructed format consists of Ravnica: City of Guilds, Guildpact, and Dissension. Only cards that were printed in the sets in the appropriate block can be used in Block Constructed formats. The Lorwyn and Shadowmoor blocks were a minor exception, as they were two mini-blocks of two sets each that were combined to make the Lorwyn-Shadowmoor Block Constructed format.
After 2015's Battle for Zendikar, blocks now consist of only two sets. Wizards of the Coast no longer sanctions many Block Constructed tournaments and has played the importance of the formats down.
Limited formats are so-called because they require players to build their decks from a more limited pool of cards than Constructed formats. Limited formats require players to open a specified number of Magic products, they then must work exclusively with the cards that came from that product. Due to the nature of Limited formats, players cannot build their decks in advance of the tournament and must build their deck within the tournament itself. There are currently two sanctioned Limited formats: Sealed Deck and Booster Draft.
The following rules apply to all current sanctioned Limited formats:
- Limited decks must contain a minimum of 40 cards. There is no maximum deck size, however, the player must be able to shuffle their deck unassisted.
- Players are not restricted to four of any one card in Limited tournament play.
- Any drafted or opened cards not used in a player's Limited deck function as his or her sideboard. Players may request additional basic land cards for their sideboard. There are no restrictions on the number of cards a player may exchange this way as long as the main deck contains at least forty cards. Cards do not need to be exchanged on a one-for-one basis.
In Sealed Deck tournaments, each player receives six booster packs to build a deck. Depending on which sets are to be used in a sealed deck event, the distribution of packs can vary greatly. For example, a Magic 2010 sealed deck event consists of six Magic 2010 boosters, but a sanctioned Shards of Alara block sealed deck event consists of two Shards of Alara, two Conflux, and two Alara Reborn booster packs.
In a booster draft, several players (usually eight) are seated around a table and each player is given three booster packs. Each player opens a pack, selects a card from it and passes the remaining cards to his or her left. Each player then selects one of the remaining cards from the pack that was just passed to him or her, and passes the remaining cards to the left again. This continues until all of the cards are depleted. The process is repeated with the second and third packs, except that the cards are passed to the right in the second pack. Players then build decks out of any cards that they selected during the drafting and add as many basic lands as they choose. Each deck built this way must have a minimum of 40 cards, including basic lands.
Rochester Draft is a booster draft variant that was formerly a sanctioned format. The last Pro Tour event to use the format was Pro Tour Nagoya 2005.
The format differs from traditional booster draft in that packs are opened one at a time and are laid out for each player to see. Players openly pick one card from the pack in turn. Once each player has picked a card from the booster pack, the draft order reverses so that the last player to draft a card from the pack takes the next draft pick and then passes the pack back the way it came. Once each player has opened a booster and followed this process, the final player to open a booster opens their next booster and the draft pick order is reversed. The process is repeated until each player has opened three booster packs each and all the cards in those packs have been drafted.
Cube Draft is a booster draft variant in which the pool of cards is a predetermined set of cards chosen for the purpose of drafting them. The pool of cards is known as a Cube and usually contains a minimum of 360 cards to accommodate an eight-player booster draft.[dead link] The cards used in a Cube are usually unique so that no card appears more than once in a draft. Typically, the card pool is an amalgamation of powerful cards from throughout the history of Magic, although the card pool can be whatever theme is desired.
Traditionally, Magic is a game that is played between two players, however, it is also possible to play with multiple players. Despite the existence of numerous multiplayer formats, Two-Headed Giant is currently the only multiplayer format that has been officially sanctioned by the DCI.
Two-Headed Giant (2HG) is a team game where pairs of players share turns and life totals. Each player has their own separate deck and plays independently of their teammate, however, teammates share the goal of defeating the opposing team.
In June 2005, rules for handling multiplayer games were added to the official rulebook, and "Two-Headed Giant" team play became the first multiplayer format to be sanctioned by the DCI. The first Two-Headed Giant Grand Prix was Grand Prix Amsterdam in 2007. The first and thus far only Pro Tour to be held under the Two-Headed Giant format was Pro Tour San Diego in 2007.
Casual play groups and even Wizards of the Coast have developed many alternative formats for playing the game. These formats are designed to accommodate larger numbers of players, to allow two or more players to work together as a team, or create specific requirements for deck construction. They are distinct from the officially sanctioned formats such as Legacy, Vintage, Modern, Standard, or Block Constructed, which are organized by the DCI and merely define the available card pool, but don't change the rules.
Many of these variants are popular in tournament play, though not all have support from Wizards of the Coast. Several casual formats have been implemented in Magic: The Gathering Online.
As with sanctioned formats, most casual formats can be categorized into Constructed or Limited formats. Casual constructed formats include:
Pauper is a Magic variant in which card legality is based on printed rarity. In Pauper, only common cards are legal, or rather any card printed at common rarity, by deck construction rules. It is largely known as a Magic Online format, although paper Pauper events have been run using the MTGO legality list. It was added as an official format on Magic Online December 1, 2008.
While in Pauper only common cards are legal, in Peasant a deck may contain up to 5 uncommon cards and the rest must be common. Peasant Magic was created by Rob Baranowski who felt that players with limited access to cards should still have an opportunity for competitive play. Tournaments for this format have taken place at Gen Con since 2001. However, the original banned list is considered to be outdated and most tournaments are played by the rules of the largest active Peasant community.
Frontier is a format developed by Japanese stores Hareruya and BigMagic in 2016. It is similar to Modern in its deck construction rules, but with a later start date; card sets are legal from Magic 2015 onwards.
In the Rainbow Stairwell format, players make a 60 card deck utilizing six cards from each color and colorless. These six cards must have a converted mana cost ranging from one to six, with each card taking up one of six slots. Rules differ on what is allowed for the 24 land slots, with the simplest rule being 4 of each type of basic land; others allow nonbasic lands, but only if the entire cycle is used.
In the Singleton format, players are allowed to use only one of each card instead of the usual limit of four. This variation is also known as "Highlander" (named after the catchphrase "There can be only one" of the movies), "Legendary" (in Magic, before the Magic 2014 Core Set rule change, there could only be one of any legend card in the game), or "Restricted" (tournament formats with a restricted list insist that decks have no more than one of those cards) Magic. Some players of this format require that the decks have a minimum of 100 cards, ban sideboards, and institute a special rule for mulligans with hands having either too many or too few lands.
Tribal Wars is a constructed casual format in which one-third of every deck must be of a single creature type. Common tribes in Magic include elves, goblins, and merfolk. Certain cards are banned in the Magic Online variant of Tribal Wars that would be overly swingy against known enemy Tribal decks, such as Circle of Solace or Engineered Plague.
Limited casual formats include all the sanctioned formats as well.
Back Draft is a draft variant where each player tries to build the worst deck possible, because each player gives another player that deck to play in the tournament. To avoid mana problems, players choose what lands to add in the deck after they are "backdrafted". Scoring is usually done where a player gains a point each time the deck they play with wins and each time the deck they built loses.
Reject Rare Draft
Reject Rare Draft is a format in which each player donates 45 rare cards (the same number as in 3 regular boosters) and then drafts as normal. The rares are "donated", as everyone takes home the deck they draft and no attempt is made to return the rares to the original owners, as all the rares donated must be able to be categorized as an "unplayable" rare occasionally printed by MTG for any number of reasons. Hence "reject rare draft". This variant was developed at Neutral Ground, a gaming store owned by Brian David-Marshall, a columnist for Wizards and noted commentator in the Magic world.
In the Type 4 or Limited Infinity format, players randomly draft a 45 card deck from a large card pool (similar to a cube draft) without knowing the cards included in their deck. Players get infinite mana but are only allowed 1 spell per turn (1 each turn, their own and 1 during each opponent's turn). A starting hand is 5 cards.
The majority of multiplayer formats are casual formats, with Two-Headed Giant being the only multiplayer format to ever be sanctioned. Many formats can be adapted for multiple players, however, some formats are designed specifically for play with multiple players. Multiplayer formats include:
The simplest format is the free-for-all, where players sit in a circle and vie with those around them to be the final surviving player. Sometimes restrictions are added on who can be attacked in large free-for-alls - e.g. a player can only attack players sitting next to them.
Star (also called "Pentagram", "Five-Point", "Rainbow", "Five-Player Star", and "Color War") is a variant that involves exactly five players each playing one of the colors of Magic. Artifacts and colorless cards are usually allowed, but not off-color cards, including multi-color or hybrid mana cards. Players sit in color wheel order (White, Blue, Black, Red, Green) and try to defeat the two diametrically opposed "enemy" players. A player wins when both enemy colors are eliminated from the game. It is possible to have multiple winners in an allied victory if two players meet the victory condition at the same time. (Example: Blue and White share the win when Green and Black have already been eliminated and Red is the last player to be eliminated. In this example, White and Blue have both reached the victory condition simultaneously.)
|Color||Allied Colors||Enemy Colors|
|White||Green and Blue||Black and Red|
|Blue||White and Black||Red and Green|
|Black||Blue and Red||Green and White|
|Red||Black and Green||White and Blue|
|Green||Red and White||Blue and Black|
Alternative variants of "Star" are where each player plays more than one color. For example, in a game of Star with allied color pair decks, the White/Blue deck would win once both Red decks (White and Blue's mutual enemy) were defeated - Red/Black and Red/Green.
In the Assassin format, players are randomly assigned "targets" to defeat, such as via shuffle of basic land cards. Players score points for delivering the finishing blow to their assigned target as well as being the last survivor. Defeating another player grants you their "contract", and thus a new target to attack. Formats differ on what drawing your own contract means — whether it be a reshuffle (if at start of the game) or a "wild card" that allows you to gain points for any player defeated.
In the Emperor format, two teams, each generally composed of three players, play to ensure their central player (the "Emperor") outlasts the other. A team wins the game when the opposing Emperor has been eliminated, it does not matter if that team has any other players left on the team. Teams can either be pre determined or randomly decided. After teams have been selected Emperors are decided in the same fashion. Range of influence is a standard rule enforced upon each emperor during a game. It is widely debated what a fair range of influence is and should be discussed before the match. (Example: An Emperor with a ROI of 1 can only cast spells and abilities as far as 1 player to his left or right. A ROI of 2 enables targeting of 2 players left or right. This effectively allows emperors to use harmful spells on non emperor enemy players) Another rule worth noting is all creatures gain a tap ability that reads "Target Teammate gains control of this creature." Summoning sickness affects use of this rule. If a player leaves the game for any reason all of their permanents leave the game as well regardless of who controls them.
Variant Magic: The Gathering products
Wizards of the Coast have released a number of official products creating new, or supporting existing, casual formats. Below is a list of the formats these products were created for.
This variant was designed specifically for social play. Each player has a special card that affects the game. These cards change the players' starting life total and cards in hand, and have additional effects as well. Vanguard initially began with special oversized Vanguard cards, released as part of various promotions. Only four sets of avatar cards were made before the product was discontinued. The cards featured depicted major characters from the storyline of Magic, including Gerrard Capashen, Karn and Squee. A new version of Vanguard was eventually added to Magic Online, with a player's avatar filling the role of the oversized physical cards. Players are given a standard set of avatars and can receive more as entry and high-finishing prizes in release events. New avatars are regularly added as new sets of Magic cards are released, each depicting a card from the set. The wider availability online, combined with occasional tournaments, has made online Vanguard more of a success than its physical predecessor.
One recent addition to the regular Vanguard format is Momir Basic, which involves the Momir Avatar, which allows a player to discard a land card to get a random creature into play. All Momir Basic Decks are constructed entirely of basic land.
In September 2009, Wizards of the Coast released the Planechase product. The product was designed to allow players to play the new casual 'Planar Magic' format. The format can be played with two or more players. Each player requires a traditional Magic deck and a 'planar deck' of plane cards, players also need a 'planar die'. The first player turns over a plane card from the top of their planar deck and that card affects the game as specified on the card. The current plane card only changes when the specific symbol on the planar dice is rolled. In 2012, Wizards announced that they would be making a new set of Planechase game packs. They were released on June 1, 2012.
In June 2010, Wizards of the Coast released the Archenemy product. The product allowed players to play a new multiplayer casual format designed by Wizards of the Coast. The format is designed for four players with one player taking the role of the Archenemy and the other three players creating a team to play against the Archenemy.
Each player plays with a traditional Magic deck, however, the Archenemy also possess a 'scheme deck' of 20 oversized cards. During the first main phase of the Archenemy's turn they turn over a card from their Scheme deck and use its effect. The effects of scheme cards are usually powerful to allow the Archenemy a greater chance of defeating their three opponents. The Archenemy starts at 40 life while all other players start at the traditional 20 life. The Archenemy also always takes the first turn and draws a card at the beginning of this turn. The Archenemy's opponents share a turn, as in the Two-Headed Giant format, however they play individually and cannot share resources.
The Archenemy wins the game by defeating each member of the opposing team, whilst the opposing team wins if they defeat the Archenemy.
The Commander format, also known as Elder Dragon Highlander (EDH), uses 100 card singleton decks (no duplicates except basic lands), a starting life total of 40, and features a "Commander" or "General". The Commander must be a legendary creature, and all cards in the deck can only have mana symbols on them from the Commander's colors. The Commander is not included in one's library; it can be played as if it was in one's hand and returns to the "command" zone whenever it would be put into a graveyard or exiled. If a player takes 21 combat damage from any one commander, that player loses the game regardless of life total (a rule to bring games to an eventual halt and somewhat keep lifegain in check). The format has its own official banned list. Commander is usually a multiplayer format, although a special separate banned list exists for "Duel Commander" balanced for 1v1 matches on Magic Online.
The format started as Elder Dragon Highlander and originally assumed that the five three-color Elder Dragons from the Legends set such as Nicol Bolas or Chromium were the only generals allowed. It proved one of the most popular variants of Magic. Wizards of Coast decided to officially support the variant with the creation of the Commander product, preconstructed decks designed for playing the format that include both new cards and reprints. The first set of Commander decks were released in 2011, and decks are continuing to be released as of 2017.
Other casual formats
Various alternative rules can be used to govern the construction of decks. Some of these variants have become so popular that unsanctioned tournaments have taken place at various Magic tournaments and gaming-oriented conventions such as Gen Con.
- Mental Magic is a format in which cards may be played as any card in the game with the same mana cost.
- Mini-Magic is a constructed variant where decks are built with a maximum card limit of 15 and a maximum hand size of 3. Because of the small deck size, the state-based action causing a player to lose when they attempt to draw a card from their empty library is ignored. Select cards are banned in this format due to their heightened power level given the limited deck size. Alternatively, the format may be drafted using a single booster pack per person, this is known as Mini-Master or Pack Wars.
- Horde Magic is a cooperative multiplayer variant of Magic. The Allied players face off against the Horde deck, which is automatically controlled. The Horde automatically casts a semi-random number of creatures and effects from it every turn, then attacks with everything possible. The default flavor of the Horde are mindless attacking zombies. The Horde has no life total, but damage to it reduces its library of cards. If the players can survive until the Horde runs out of cards, they win.
- QL Magic is a variant where players can only play with cards with the old Magic card frames, in contrast with the Modern format. As such the format allows players to play with cards from Alpha up to Onslaught block. The format also uses an older version of the rules based on the 6th Edition rules.
- Fat Stack/Tower of Power is a format in which two large decks (one containing land and mana-producing-artifacts and the other spells) are shared by all players. Players chose to draw from either deck each turn. Good for pickup games; Allows people without collections to play.
- Pack War is a format in which two players each open two booster packs (without looking at the contents), set aside the token or advertisement cards, and add 3 of each type of basic land. The players then play a best 2-of-3 games. Several game stores supporting this unofficial format then award a booster pack from one of the sets in Standard to the winner (assuming the four other booster packs were purchased at the store that day).
- Penny Dreadful is an unofficial Magic Online budget format where the legality rules include only cards that cost 0.01 ticket - roughly one penny. 
- Commander Adventures is an unofficial Commander casual multiplayer-format that combines roleplay elements like quests and bounties with custom designs of existing variants like Vanguard (Legacy of the Paruns-expansion), Assassin (Conspiracy-expansion), Planar Chase (Ignition-expansion) and Archenemy (Dungeons & Dragons-expansion). 
- Old School ia a format where only cards that were printed in 1993 and 1994 (the first 2 years of Magic) are allowed. There are many different variations, often with different rules set regionally by a play group or a local tournament organizer.
The Extended format, formerly known as Type 1.x, was a format created in 1997 that contained more sets than Standard / Type II, but fewer sets than Vintage / Type 1. In 1997, it consisted of cards from The Dark and Revised and forward. By 2002, it changed to consist of the last six-to-eight years of sets, rotating every three years. In 2008, the format was changed to a flat last seven years regardless, with a rotation each year. In 2010, the format was changed again to consist of only the last four years of blocks and core sets. With each autumn set release, one year's worth of sets rotate out of the format. Any additional sets released between rotations are automatically added to this format's card pool. The new system was implemented to reduce the format's card pool, with the intention that this would make the format more understandable and attractive to play. On July 22, 2013, Wizards of the Coast announced that the Extended format would be retired, with the final sanctioned events occurring on October 8, 2013.
In Prismatic or 5-Color, players must build very large decks of at least 250 cards and accommodate a minimum number of cards of each color. This format was first developed by Kurt Hahn and several other players in the Milwaukee area in 1999–2000. 5-Color was managed by the 5CRC (5-Color Ruling Council), which while not affiliated with Wizards of the Coast or the DCI, organizes tournaments, has its own list of banned and restricted cards, and has a world championship held at Gen Con. It also supports ante cards, an initial component of the rules for Magic that has since been deprecated. When Magic Online was under development, this format was requested by many users, and it was added as "Prismatic" with slight differences. An additional "big deck" mulligan is also standard online, allowing players to compensate for hands with too many or too few lands. However, the 5CRC eventually stopped sanctioning tournaments and changed leadership, and the Magic Online Prismatic format was discontinued due to lack of interest in 2015.
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