Magic: The Gathering Format Guide - Prima Games

Magic: The Gathering Format Guide

by John Cooper

Magic: The Gathering is a game of infinite decisions, gigantic dragons, and cute cats. It’s been around for over two decades because it gets updated at least every 3 months and there are a lot of different ways to play it. Starting off with the game is sometimes a little intimidating because there is just so much there. It’s not just how to play the game but the fact that there are so many different ways to do so.

While many MtG players will begin with Limited formats or Standard, others may begin playing the game with no knowledge of formats at all. Of course, there is nothing wrong with “Kitchen Table Magic” but if you want to go to tournaments then you need to know what’s what. So, in order to help you understand what the formats are, we have compiled a list. Enjoy.


This is the staple of MtG gameplay. Nearly every tournament is some form of Constructed because the decks tend to be more powerful and more competitive. Every style has a different list of what is and isn’t legal as well as a Banned and Restricted list. Decks should be a minimum of 60 cards, and you can have a Sideboard of up to 15 cards. You can only have a maximum four of any named card outside of Basic Lands. Games tend to be best of three and you use your Sideboard to help you against specific matchups.


Of all of the Constructed formats, this is probably the one most people get into. It involves the last three or four blocks of cards and tends to be cheaper to play then some of the other formats. It is always changing because of new sets being added and old ones being removed so it makes for an ever-changing landscape.


Modern includes all sets from 8th Edition onwards that were Standard Legal at any point. The competitive decks tend to be very powerful and fairly expensive. However, unlike Standard things don’t rotate out of the format so if you invest in expensive cards, they tend to hold their value. It has a hefty list of banned cards to try and keep the format fun and varied but this changes every so often too.


This is the first of the formats that includes literally every card. It does, however, have a large list of banned cards which is one of the main defining factors between it and Vintage. It is pricey to get into which limits the number of new players who attempt to get into it.


Vintage includes every card and uses a large restricted card list in order to shape the format. This means instead of four of a card you may only be able to have one. A Legacy deck might be worth a car, a Vintage deck could cover a deposit on a house.


This format has a surprisingly high-power level and is comprised of any card that has been printed at Common rarity. It can be quite cheap to get into but some of the cards are hard to find nowadays. It’s a fun one and sees a lot of play on Magic Online.


Limited formats have you building a deck from cards you’ve just opened. While there are a few older variants we are just going to look at Sealed and Draft to keep things simple. The aim of each is to do the best with whatever cards you end up with. It levels the field somewhat as you can’t just buy the best deck. It is also a really good way to play with new sets. The deck itself only has to be 40 cards due to the change in card selection.


In Sealed you open six booster packs and you have to build a deck from them. Your ability in Sealed relies a little bit more on luck than a Draft because you can’t tactically give away bad cards. From a personal standpoint, it is one of my favourite ways to play Magic.


A Draft consists of a pod of 8 people (ideally) who have three booster packs each. You all open up your first pack, pick a card, then pass the rest to your left. You do this until all of the cards are gone, then open the second pack but pass right this time. Once you have finished with the third pack (going left once more) you have to build a deck. There is a lot of strategy in picking the cards you choose to take and it has a very high skill ceiling as a result.


These formats tend to have less tournaments, but they are also considered some of the most fun. Generally speaking, they’re played in groups of 3 or more. Though, once you get above 4 players games can take an obnoxious amount of time. There is a small list of banned cards but generally speaking a lot of the rules come from the group playing.


Brawl has you choosing one Legendary creature or Planeswalker to be at the front of your deck (your commander). You have them separate to your deck in the command zone where you can cast them whenever you have the mana with the normal spell restrictions. Your deck can only include cards that have the same colour as that card and only one of each aside from basic lands. It makes for some incredibly fun games and some exceptionally strange combos, but Brawl only has access to the same cards as Standard. Your deck is 60 cards and you either have 25 life or 30 depending on player counts. Also, if your commander dies, they can go back to the command zone but will cost an extra two mana when they are next cast. This gets more expensive each time.


Commander has the same basic rules as Brawl, but you can’t have a Planeswalker as your commander. Also, if your commander does 21 damage to an opponent they die immediately. You build a 100 card deck this time but from nearly every card ever printed in MtG. There are highly competitive decks in this format, but most people just play for fun.

That’s most of the formats in Magic: The Gathering. Currently, MtG Arena only supports the Limited formats as well as Standard, but this could change as different things get added. For everything else you want to know about MtG check out our Hub.