Hello, and Welcome to the Formats of Magic: The Gathering organized play. With so many ways to play Magic, it’s important to understand the rules of each of the official formats, as well as the concerns for them, the audience, and exactly where you’ll be seeing that way of playing. This presentation covers the majority of formats you’ll encounter at a MagicFest, convention, your Local Game Store, or even your kitchen table! This includes constructed formats such as: Standard, Modern, Legacy, Vintage, Commander, and Team Trios, as well as limited formats such as Draft, Sealed, Two-Headed Giant Sealed, and Team Sealed.
Let’s talk about the formats you’ll encounter the most as a judge. These are the ones that make up a majority of organized play, short of a few local weekly events or MagicFest side events. The first one on our list is Standard. Standard is made from roughly the most recent four to six sets, currently including
Standard is the most popular tournament format, and sees a wide range of players, from new players to pros. It normally features no banned list, but it’s not uncommon for a card to be banned. The deck construction rules are normal – 60 card minimum main deck, 15 card maximum sideboard.
The next format is Modern, made from all standard legal sets since 8th Edition in 2003, as well as Modern Supplementary sets such as Modern Horizons. This format has normal deck construction rules, and an extensive banned list you’ll want to verify online with before you begin building a deck. The format is a bit more restrictive, but usually sees as much play as Standard in most areas. With more cards, the format features more complex interactions, the most notorious of which are Blood Moon’s interactions, Dredge and replacement effects, and Teferi, Time Raveler + Suspend or similar cards.
Next, we meet our first Limited format, Sealed. Players begin with six packs, usually of the same set, and have a limited amount of time to construct a 40 card minimum deck from among them, the rest becoming their sideboard. Players may add as many basic lands as they need to their decks, usually to a split of 17 lands to 23 nonlands. At Competitive REL, players must register their pools and decks, usually done through this procedure: Players are seated across from one another randomly, and are given their packs. One side of the table at a time opens their packs, while the person across verifies the packs’ correctness and contents. The cards are placed onto a single pile on the list, then the other side does the same. After this, they swap lists and pools, and register one another’s pools, with a 20 minute time limit. The players swap back, and begin building and registering their decks, with a 30 minute time limit. Since Sealed requires no building ahead of time, it usually reaches a very wide audience, including very young or new players, so more baseline questions about Magic’s rules can be expected.
The other popular Limited format is Draft. Like Sealed, players do not need to bring any cards with them for this format, but is played differently. Players are normally seated in pods of 8, in a circle. Each player receives three packs, usually of the same set, and opens one of those packs, removes the token card, and chooses a card to take, then passes the pack to their left.
This continues until each card is taken, then the next pack is done the same to the right, then back to the left in pack three. After this, players must build a 40 card minimum deck, with basic lands provided. At Competitive REL, this can be timed (specific times can be found in the MTR), or done as a “zone” draft, where players are instructed to not pass their pack unless there is no pack waiting for the next person. For Competitive REL, players are usually given 25 minutes to build and register their decks.
The last major format is Team Trios. Constructed Team Trios features three person teams, with one player each for Standard, Modern, and Legacy, with each player battling in an individual best of three match, to a total best of three by format to determine the winner between the two teams. Should two matches finish in favor of one team while the third is still playing, that last match ends immediately. Team Sealed is another three person variant, with teams of three being given 12 packs to build three legal Sealed decks, to play in the same style as Team Constructed. At Competitive REL, it’s important for teams to remember who is player A, B, and C, to ensure players are in the right seats at the start. For Team Trios, players are allowed to communicate and assist with each others’ matches, but this shouldn’t include handling their cards for them, and should be kept to a reasonable amount of time.
These formats make up a large portion of tournament Magic. However, there are some other formats that are just as popular, and/or have some unique rules within.
The most popular casual format is Commander, also known as EDH. Players play with 99 card decks, where only one of each card (other than basic lands) may be played, whose color identity matches the legendary creature or legal planeswalker selected as their commander. Any cards from Magic’s history are legal, minus a specific banned list. Specific rules can be found in section 903 of the Comprehensive Rules. Generally, this format is played in pods of four players, with the last player standing becoming the winner. The rules and banned list for this format are maintained by an external group known as the Commander Rules Committee, and can be found at http://mtgcommander.net/rules.php. Commander features some of the most unique interactions in Magic, thanks to its diverse card pool and playerbase.
Next, we have Legacy and Vintage, both of which are made from cards from all of Magic’s history, minus a banned list. Both have normal deck construction rules, with Vintage also featuring a list of cards that are *restricted* in the format, such that you can play only a single copy of the cards on that list. These formats do feature more complex interactions thanks to the wide card pool. Something to keep in mind for older cards: Do not believe the written text! Always check the Oracle text for the card to make sure you have the text, as many older cards have had their Oracle Text altered over the years.
The next format is Pauper, a normal constructed format made from only the cards printed at Common in Magic’s history. This includes both paper and online sets, and has its own banned list maintained by Wizards of the Coast. This format’s card pool is generally simpler, but that does not make it devoid of interesting interactions.
One popular way to play is Two-Headed Giant, a cooperative variant where two players form a single team, and play the same game, sharing parts of their turn, combat, and a life total, against another similar team. The rules for this can be found in CR 800 and 810. Some important things to note: team members can block for each other; a player must technically choose to attack a single player, and is assumed to be attacking the one in front of them if no one is announced; cards that reference “an opponent” may not target your teammate.
These are all the formats you’ll see most of the time. Some others you may encounter include full box sealed, Old School, rochester draft, or Brawl. For these formats, some quick research ahead of time is always beneficial, with plentiful resources available online, with a mentor, or in the Comprehensive Rules. When in doubt, you can use your knowledge of one format to guide you in another. That’s all for MTG Formats, see you next time!