Guide to the Formats 1

If you’re a long time player of Magic, you may already know about many of Magic’s unique formats. However, for many new players, there may be some confusion about the differences between them. Why is there a Legacy and a Vintage? What is the difference besteem EDH and Highlander?

Below you will find an extensive guide on the majority of Magic’s many formats, so without further ado, let’s begin!

Popular Formats


To start out, let’s take a look at the Standard format. Standard is Magic’s most played format by far, being the flagship premier format that Wizards pushes the majority of its new sets towards. Even if you’re a fairly new player, you’ve probably heard of it, and may even have started out playing it. Standard is a non-eternal rotating format, which means that your cards and decks will eventually rotate out and you will have to buy a whole new deck. To some, this may be a nuisance, but to many, this is part of what makes Standard so fun and exciting – it’s ever-changing and there will always be some new rogue deck that just absolutely crushes a tournament. Not only is Standard always changing, it also provides a plentiful bounty of cards for rouge deck builders and brewers to create whatever they desire. In general, Standard is a fairly competitive format, and the majority of large-scale tournaments are focused on it. If you’re looking to get into a competitive, highly fast paced, but well-grounded format, then Standard is just the place for you.


  • Great environment for rouge deck building
  • Highly supported by Wizards
  • Many tournaments
  • Fairly low deck costs
  • Always something new to play


  • It may be hard to keep up with a rotating format
  • Has some player influx; sometimes it’s incredibly popular, and other times, not so much


  • Your deck will eventually rotate out
  • The meta game is always changing


Modern is one of Magic’s most-played eternal or non-rotating formats. Modern consists of all Magic cards printed back to eighth edition. In contrast to Standard, Modern and the majority of the rest of the formats in Magic contain a banlist. These banlists consist of cards that are too powerful for general use, and can/have created huge influxes in decks that sweep tournaments. Modern was created back in 2011 when there was a need for a new eternal non-rotating format after Extended. Due to Modern’s fairly new age, the format is still incredibly unresolved and is fairly volatile. However, in spite of this, there is a general core of decks that the format tends to rotate around, and it may become repetitive for some. But this quality may be positive for many others, as it means you don’t have to extensively keep up with the meta for your deck to be relevant. Modern is officially supported by Wizards and is updated by them; however, it seems to be recently losing support.While some of the decks in Modern have very high price tags reaching up to $2,000, there are many budget and lower cost Modern decks that can be created to help you get your feet wet. Such decks are included but not limited to Merfolk, Death and Taxes, Mono Red Burn, and Gruul Zoo.

If you are looking to get into a competitive eternal format that is within a mid-price range and is something to invest in, then Modern may be the format for you. While it does have its flaws, it still has a lot of potential for becoming an amazing format – after it’s had time to age a little.


  • Your decks will never rotate out (unless they are banned)
  • Moderately supported by Wizards
  • Many tournaments
  • Established Meta Game


  • Banning can sometimes be random
  • Price points of some decks can be very expensive


  • Volatile in nature
  • Same decks all the time
  • Same deck construction as Standard


Legacy is a format very similar to Modern, in that it is eternal and your decks will never rotate out. However, unlike Modern, Legacy boasts a card pool that contains the majority of the cards printed in the entire history of Magic. To counter all of the broken and overpowered cards that have existed (such as Black Lotus and Ancestral Recall), Legacy has an extensive ban list that makes this format one of the most balanced in Magic. Because the format is so old, however, the majority of the decks are fairly expensive (ranging from anywhere between $1,000 to $4,000) and contain incredibly rare cards (i.e. Tundra, Savanna, or Force of Will). Legacy has had many years to become resolved, and is a very stable format at the moment that fluctuates in patterns. Due to Legacy’s stability, the decks and meta game rarely rotate – which is fine for most players, considering the very huge investment that comes with it. At its current stage, Legacy is not supported very much by Wizards; however, companies and event holders still hold occasional tournaments for it, and some game stores hold FNM or special Legacy nights.

The format may not be for everyone because of itwo high price range, lower support, and rare cards, but if you’re looking for a very resolved and fair format to get into that also doubles as a huge investment, then Legacy is probably right for you.


  • Your decks will never rotate out (unless they are banned)
  • Very balanced format
  • Usually a great investment
  • Established Meta Game


  • Not strongly supported by Wizards
  • Majority of decks are very expensive


  • Same decks all the time
  • Some ridicoulous combo decks
  • Not every Magic event has Legacy tournaments
  • Has a bit of a higher learning curve due to power levels in cards
  • Same deck construction as Standard


Vintage is known as the turn 0 format because the cards in it are so incredibly powerful (even more so than Legacy) – your starting hand essentially decides the results of the game. Vintage is Magic’s most unrestricted format, besides CAsian and EDH. It contains all cards printed in the history of Magic and has a small ban list. Vintage also introduces a new style of ban list called the restricted list. The restricted list states that any cards in it can only be played as one copy in any deck (sideboard and main). The majority of the broken cards in MAgic are on the restricted list, but that doesn’t lower the power level of Vintage very much. Wizards of the coast and most event holders don’t really support Vintage, and tournaments are few and far between. Some of the cards in the format that make decks competitive can cost $8,000. Due to the high prices and rarity of some cards, Vintage decks are usually about the price of a small car, ranging anywhere from $10,000 to $40,000 in cost! It is by far the most expensive format in Magic and is very difficult to get into. Due to Vintage’s power levels, it is a very unbalanced format. In general, there are a few decks that win every tournament, and some side decks that win every once in a while. A very recent banning just occurred that attempted to fix this, but only time will tell if the format will become more resolved. Not to mentuon that because so few players actually play this format, there just isn’t enough data to really figure out what decks are good.

Vintage has become a novelty in a way, rather than a largely played format because of its ridiculously high prices. Because of this, Vintage is not meant for everyone, and players generally only consider playing it if they are either longtime players, collectors, or have a lot of spare change. If you are looking for a format that has the highest power level in all of Magic and is a huge investment, then Vintage may be what your looking for.


  • Your decks will never rotate out (unless they are banned)
  • Usually an okay investment
  • Established Meta Game


  • Not really supported by Wizards
  • Incredibly expensive decks
  • Only a few tournaments a year


  • Same decks all the time
  • Same deck construction as Standard
  • Very high power levels


EDH is one of the most widely played formats in the game. Whether you play Standard or Vintage, you’ve probably heard of or even already played Commander. The deck construction in EDH differs from that of other formats in that you make a ninety-nine card singleton deck and choose a one hundredth card to be your commander, which must be a legendary creature. Your ninety-nine can only contain cards in the colors of your commander. During a game of EDH, your commander is in a special zone outside of your deck called the command zone; in this zone, you may cast your commander any time you want during your turn. Whenever it is removed from the game, bounced to your hand, or moved to the graveyard, you may choose to have it go back to the command zone with a counter on it. For every counter on your commander, it costs two more mana of any color to cast. Because of the hundreds of legendary creatures in Magic, EDH is an incredibly diverse and unique format. Almost every deck is different, and many players take months and years to refine and create their perfect ninety-nine. There is also a variation of EDH called Tiny Leaders, which is played with the same rules and deck constructions as EDH, but with an additional rule that none of the cards in your deck can cost more than three converted mana. Your deck can also only be fiffy cards (including the commander).

EDH is a great format to get into if you want to play with groups of people at the same time, and can be a very fun and social format. The format also boasts a small but growing competitive community, and can be played either casually or competitively. If you are trying to find a fun, casual, and competitive format to get into, then EDH is right for you.


  • Your decks will never rotate out (unless they are banned)
  • Very social format (many games are played with more than two people)
  • Unique decks; you can basically play anything you want


  • Can become expensive for certain builds
  • Can be overwhelming for new/returning players


  • Decks are can take a while to refine
  • Unique deck construction
  • Not a lot, if any, competitive events


Pauper is a format that used to be a MTGO exclusive, but is currently gaining a lot of traction in Paprt Magic. Pauper, much like Modern and Legacy, has a ban list, and has the same general deck construction and rules of Standard. However, Pauper is different in a major way; only cards that have been printed at least once as a common are allowed to be played in decks. This means that cards such as Lightning Bolt and Daze are allowed alongside cards such as Chainers Edict and Satyr Wayfinder. Due to Pauper’s unique deck-building restrictions, the format is really cheap to get into and great to play alongside other formats. Even though the restriction of only commons seems like it would make the format lacking, it’s actually the contrary. Pauper has a lot of interesting interactions, and remains a very competitive and exciting format. It is also very unexplored as of yet, and it is very easy to make brews and variations of lists that do well in tournaments. Even though the format is very unexplored, it also has an established meta game of decks you can expect to see at a tournament. The list is ever-changing, though, and it is by no means as established as Legacy or Vintage.

If you are looking for a very cheap format that is fun and competitive, then you sukulele consider Pauper. It’s currently gaining a lot of traction in Paper Magic, and a lot of game stores have started supporting it. If your local game store doesn’t support it yet and you want to start playing, just ask and see if you can get a league started.


  • Your decks will never rotate out (unless they are banned)
  • Cheap decks
  • Unique decks; you can basically play anything you want
  • Very good for rouge deck building


  • Sometimes stereotyped as a noncompetitive format
  • Some random cards can be a bit expensive
  • Paper version is not officially supported by Wizards


  • A lot of variety
  • Some common archetypes found in other formats are not viable
  • Standard deck construction


Draft is a very unique format in that it is not a constructed format – meaning you don’t show up to the events with a deck you previously constructed. In Draft, players are usually given three packs of cards [usually the latest set(s)] and are then asked to open the first pack, take a card they want or think is good, and pass the pack to the next player, who then takes a card and passes the pack again until all of the cards are gone. This process repeats until there is nothing left in all three players’ packs. After players select all of their cards, they have to use their skills to create the most optimal deck they can using only their selected cards and basic lands provided.The actual games play the same way as a typical game of Magic, and Draft contains all normal tournament rules except:
– Decks must be forty cards minimum, instead of sixty.
– Every card you drafted that is not in your deck counts as a sideboard card.If you are considering getting started with Draft, then it’s probably a good idea to find archetypes and playstyles that are supported in the set you will be drafting. For example it won’t usually work very well to try and force tribal elves in a set that only has 3 elf cards total. A lot of the strategy in drafting isn’t just in deck creation but it is also in how well you can evaluate the packs and cards passed to you in order to make the most optimal deck.Draft as a format is played at almost every game store and event, the format is very easy to pick up and almost anybody can play it. Depending on the amount of players the tournaments can be anywhere from 4-6 rounds and the drafting tables can become quite large, especially at much more popular tournaments. There’s also the added bonus that Wizards supports the format in its entirety and sometimes even designs specific sets made for drafting.

If you’re looking for a fun and fairly inexpensive format to get in to, that really challenges your quick thinking and deck building skills then draft just may be the format for you.


  • Fairly inexpensive to play (depending on the set)
  • Unique decks, you can basically play anything you want
  • Generally a more social and fun environment but still very competative
  • Sometimes you will pull really awesome rare cards
  • Fully supported by Wizards


  • Not really an investment, usually unless you place high you won’t get your money back
  • Sometimes older sets can be very expensive


  • A lot of variety
  • Some common archetypes seen in other formats are not viable
  • Non standard deck construction
  • No pre-made decks

Other Formats


Highlander is a special format much like EDH where deck construction is very different from the Standard norm. In highlander you are only allowed to play 1 of each card except basic lands and the decks must be 100 cards. Highlander is generally a more competitive format then EDH, but is around the same price range.


Cube is format that almost mirrors draft, except instead of using actual packs of cards players create 15 card packs to use from a card pool that is specifically designed for drafting. Cubes can be created with any cards in Magic, Legacy Cubes, Modern Cubes, Tribal Cubes, Shards Cubes and everything under the sun exist and can be created. In general cube is much more of an investment for a person or play group then drafting is, but typically that investment will pay off if a lot of effort is put in to making the cube balanced and fun to play.


Limited is the format that is used mainly for pre-releases (when a new set first comes out). Players are usually given spin down dice in the sets flavor, and then are given around 6 packs that they may use all the cards in to create a deck with. All standard drafting rules apply to these decks; 40 card minimum, and your entire card pool is your sideboard. In general Limited plays a lot like draft and is usually a lot of fun for many players.


Frontier is a fairly new format on the Magic scene, but it is gaining a lot of traction. The format is an Eternal format that consists of no banlist, and contains cards back to m15. Currently the meta game is very reminiscent of original Khans of Tarkir Standard. Only time will tell if this format will be successful, but as of now it is doing fairly well.

That about sums up the majority of the formats in Magic The Gathering. As you can see there are many formats to choose between, and a ton of variety within them. If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, or we forgot to mention a format please feel free to say something in the comment section below.

And as always, happy gaming!

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