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Magic: The Gathering formats are different ways in which the Magic: The Gathering collectible card game can be played. Each format provides rules for deck construction and gameplay. The tournament formats officially sanctioned by the DCI fall into two categories, Constructed and Limited. Constructed formats are those in which players may build their deck from all the available cards in the format and construct their deck prior to playing in the tournament. Limited formats, on the other hand, involve a restricted and unknown pool of cards, usually created by opening Magic products. These formats require players to build their decks as part of the tournament, with time allotted for deck building.
Sanctioned Constructed formats include Vintage, Legacy, Modern, Standard, and Block Constructed. The primary two sanctioned Limited formats are Sealed Deck and Booster Draft. A wide variety of other formats have been designed by players of the game for custom gameplay or cost reduction; these are known as casual formats.
There are a number of common rules that can be found across a variety of different sanctioned formats. These rules may also apply to casual 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. Which cards are legal in a constructed format is one of the main variations between the various formats. In Constructed format tournaments, players build their deck in advance of the tournament. There are currently six sanctioned Constructed formats: Vintage, Legacy, Modern, Extended, Standard and Block Constructed.
The following rules apply to all current sanctioned Constructed formats:
The Vintage format, formerly known as Type 1, allows cards from all sets that are legal for constructed play (known as an "Eternal" 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, banned cards in Vintage are those that involve ante, manual dexterity (e.g. – Chaos Orb), or subgames (e.g. – Shahrazad). Cards that raise power level concerns are instead restricted to one 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.
Legacy is another "Eternal" constructed format. It also allows cards from all legal sets, but unlike Vintage, it maintains only a banned list, and cards are banned in Legacy for 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.
Modern is the newest constructed format. Modern was 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. Wizards of the Coast is unable 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 cheaper than Legacy.
Modern allows cards from the 8th Edition core set and all expansion 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.
The Extended format, formerly known as Type 1.x, consists of 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 format previously contained seven years' of blocks and core sets. The new system was implemented in July 2010 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 will be retired, with the final sanctioned events occurring on October 8, 2013.
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 consists of the most recent "Core Set" release and the two most recent "Block" releases, with one exception. "Rotation" occurs every fall when the first set of the new "Block" releases and becomes Standard Legal. From the time the new "Core Set" is released in early summer, until rotation occurs, 2 core sets are legal. The current Standard set includes Return to Ravnica, Gatecrash, Dragon's Maze, the Magic 2014 core set, and "Theros".
The Block Constructed format uses only the cards from a single block of Magic sets. Magic sets since Mirage have come in groups (usually of three) 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 block was the first block to contain only two sets, Lorwyn and Morningtide. However, this block is combined with the Shadowmoor block, which also only contained two sets, to make the Lorwyn-Shadowmoor Block Constructed format.
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:
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 14 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 of the cards that they selected during the drafting and add as many basic lands as they want.
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. 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, Extended, 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 categorised into Constructed or Limited formats. Casual constructed formats include:
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, there may 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.
In Prismatic or 5-Color, players must build very large decks (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. 5-Color is managed by the 5CRC, which while not affiliated with Wizards of the Coast or the DCI, does organize 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.
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.
Noble is a variation on the pauper format in which a deck must contain a single rare or mythic rare (the eponymous Noble), and may contain up to four uncommons. The Noble begins the game face-down in the command zone, and may be cast from there at any time allowed by normal game rules. After it is cast, the Noble is treated like any other card, and cannot return to the command zone.
In the Rainbow Stairwell format, players make a 60 card deck utilizing six cards from each color and the artifacts. 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 6 of each type of basic land; others allow nonbasic lands, but only if the entire cycle is used.
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 (notably including draft and Cube Draft)
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 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 is a format in which each player donates 45 cards (the same number as in 3 regular boosters) and then draft 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" rares 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.
One variant is "Star" (also called "Pentagram", "Five-Point", "Rainbow", "Five-Player Star", and "Color War") and involves exactly five players, each playing one of the colors of Magic (Note: Artifacts are allowed, but no off color cards (including multi-color or hybrids) may be used). 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 and defeating your two enemy colors is known as the "victory condition." It is possible to have multiple winners - such as an allied victory, where two players have met 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 - thus an "allied victory")
|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 permanents gain a tap ability that reads "Target player gains control of this permanent." 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.
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.
In this variant, 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, or EDH (Elder Dragon Highlander), format uses 100 card decks with no duplicates except basic lands, a starting life total of 40, and feature 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 General's colors (including any mana symbols found within the card text, but excluding reminder text). The five three-color Elder Dragons such as Nicol Bolas or Chromium were once the only generals allowed, though this has changed greatly. The General is not included in one's library; it can be played as if it was in one's hand and returns to the "command" or "general" zone whenever it would be put into a graveyard or exiled. If a player takes 21 combat damage from any one general, that player loses the game, regardless of life total. The format has its own official banned list. This is usually a multiplayer format, as well as one of the most popular variants of Magic: The Gathering.
The popularity of the format was acknowledged by Wizards of Coast in the creation of the Commander product, a product designed exclusively for playing the format. The product includes five different 100-card singleton decks as well as brand new cards exclusive to the product.
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.