The Formats

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When it comes to Magic: The Gathering there are a lot of ways to play. Of course if you’re new to play, or you’ve focused on standard deck construction then you may not know about some of your options. So today, lets talk formats.

Standard Constructed Decks

In these formats a player must have at least 60 cards in their deck, though there is no set maximum. They have the option of also adding a sideboard of up to 15 cards to trade out cards on a one-to-one basis between games. In games with this format there can be no more than four of any one card, except basic lands. Different types of standard construction games have some variations. Let’s look at the standard construction formats.

Vintage (A.K.A Type 1)

In a vintage game players are allowed to use card from all legal sets. Very few of the cards printed have been banned, and banning is not done because a card is unfairly powerful. There is, however, a larger list of restricted cards that have limits on how they can be used. Some proxy cards can be used, and this format is generally not part of sanctioned tournament play.

Legacy (Type 1.5)

Legacy is similar to vintage, except cards from its banned list can be there for power reasons. There is no restricted list for the Legacy format. Unlike Vintage, Legacy has been played in sanctioned tournaments. Wizard’s of the Coast hosted a tournament for this format in 2005 in Philadelphia. A similar format, known as Modern, uses similar rules, with the exception that only cards printed in the 8th may be used.

Extended (Type 1.X)

Similar to Legacy, the Extended format allows only the last four years of blocks and core sets. Wizards of the Coast announced on July 22, 2013 that the Extended format would be retired with the last sanctioned events happening on October 8, 2013.

Modern (Type 1.M)

The Modern format is the most recent constructed format, created by Wizards of the Coast in the Spring of 2011. All cards from the 8th Edition Core Set or later are allowed in the Modern format. The 8th Edition was the first set to use the new modern card frames (hence the format's name) and therefore, any card with a modern frame is allowed in the Modern format.

Standard (Type 2)

If you’ve played at Friday Night Magic, then you’ve likely played a standard game. This format uses only cards from the most recent core set and the 2 most recent blocks. There is some wiggle room in play during a brief span between releases when two core sets can be played. This is the format that most new Magic players find themselves learning. A similar format, known as Block Constructed, uses only cards from the current block set, and excludes the current core set. If you choose to play a standard game where only common cards are legal it is called a pauper game. Add in five uncommons and the format is called peasant.

Sanctioned Limited Formats

The Sanction Limited format allows players only to pick cards from a very limited set of options. These decks must be a minimum of 40 cards at least. There is no maximum size for these decks.

Sealed Deck

In this format players are expected to start the game with six sealed booster packs. They then build a deck based on those cards alone. These events usually involve cards from a single block set, though no rule states that they must be. A variation in which players try to make the worst possible deck is called Back Draft. Players do this because they can give their deck to the opposing player.

Booster Draft

In a booster draft game players are given booster packs. They select a card and pass the rest of the booster on down the player on their left. This continues until all of the cards are gone. The players must then create their decks from those cards. A similar format, the Rochester Draft, allows players to lay the cards out on the table instead of passing them around the table.

Multiplayer Formats

Two-Headed Giant

This is the only officially sanctioned multiplayer format for tournaments. In this game players team up in pairs of two, and share both their turns and a life total of 30. This format, in which you win or lose as a team, was started officially in 2007, when it made a showing at a Grand Prix tournament.


This format allows up to six players to player at a time. Players must create a 100-card deck with no duplicates except for basic lands. Each deck must have a commander which must be a legendary creature. All cards in the deck may only have mana symbols on them from the commander's colors. This restriction includes any mana symbols found in card abilities and text. The commander is not included in the library when play begins and instead starts in the command zone. When the commander is killed or exiled it is simply returns to that zone. It can be played from the command zone as though it were in a player's hand for an additional for each previous time it has been played. Players have a total of 30 life, and can also be killed if 21 points of damage comes from a single commander over the course of a game.


The addition of special planar cards and a dice, which have different effects on the decks, can be played with any number of players. These cards, which represent different locations in the world of Magic, can make radical changes. These decks are usually 100 cards.


In the Archenemy format one player takes on the role of the opponent of three players. The Archenemy gets special scheme cards that force the other players to do something detrimental, or gives the archenemy a benefit.

There are, of course, dozens of other homebrew variations that some people play in house, but they are not widely used. If you don’t like any of these, you could also feel free to make up your own rules. As long as you can convince someone else to play with you, you’ve got a game.

Author: Katie Gatto


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