The Newb’s Guide to Sanctioned Magic Formats

I learned to play Magic with some old mono-colored core sets, so imagine my surprise when I learned that there are about a dozen different ways to play Magic.

Until I sat down and Googled the stuff, I had no idea what anyone meant by playing Standard, Limited, Legacy, or Pauper. I’m still pretty sure that last one is just an old-fashioned term for someone who’s tight on money. I didn’t even know Commander had anything to do with Magic, I honestly thought it was a board game similar to Stratego played with tiny metal figurines some of which were maybe shaped like Thor. I have no idea where that came from, but it’s 100% true.

So, here it is. This is by no means a definitive guide to these formats, it’s meant to be a quick reference for anyone new to Magic who, like me, thought Commander sounded like something that would come up when you IMDB The Avengers.

Limited Formats 

Most people start by explaining Constructed, but I’m starting with Limited because I think these formats are better suited to beginners than Constructed. Unlike Constructed, to play Limited formats, you don’t need to have a deck prepared. In Limited, players construct a deck from a set pool of cards, usually sealed booster packs from the most recent core set or expansion block. These decks must have a minimum of 40 cards.

Sealed Deck

  • Players open six sealed booster packs from the same expansion or core set, then use these cards plus any number of basic lands to construct a minimum 40-card deck.

Booster Draft

  • THE BEST! (okay, I’ll admit this is perhaps a matter of opinion)
  • To begin, four to eight players sit around a table, and each player has three sealed booster packs.
  • This next bit I took directly from the Wizards’ website, because they explain it more eloquently than I ever could (trust me, I tried):
    • At the start of a Booster Draft, each player opens a booster pack and picks the card he or she wants from it. (You can’t see the cards that the other players draft.) Then each player passes the rest of the pack to his or her left. You pick up the pack that was passed to you, select a card, and pass the rest to your left. This process continues until all the cards have been drafted. Next, each player opens a second pack, but this time, you pass the pack to your right. After all those cards are drafted, you open the third pack and pass to the left again.
  • Once players have drafted all the packs, they use the cards they selected to build a minimum 40-card deck, including basic lands.

A note on minimum deck size: in Limited, the rules say “minimum of 40 cards” which means, in theory, that you could use more or even all of the cards you have to build a deck. However, most players choose to stick to 40 cards, since this maximizes their chances of drawing their best spells.

 

Constructed Formats

To play these formats, players build their decks in advance. Decks must have at least 60 cards, with no maximum deck size as long as the player can shuffle their deck. There are six variations on constructed format play.

Standard

  • Most commonly played format
  • Deck Size: minimum of 60 cards, no maximum but you must be able to shuffle your deck, optional sideboard of exactly 15
  • No more than 4 copies of any one card, excluding basic lands
  • Uses the current block, the previous block, and the current core set
    • As of March 2013, this means Innistrad (Innistrad, Dark Ascension, and Avacyn Restored), Return to Ravnica (Return to Ravnica, Gatecrash, and Dragon’s Maze once it’s released), and the Magic 2013 core set

Block Constructed

  • Deck Size: minimum of 60 cards, no maximum but you must be able to shuffle your deck, optional sideboard of exactly 15
  • No more than 4 copies of any one card, excluding basic lands
  • Uses cards from any single block as determined prior to the event
    • For instance, at an Innistrad Block Constructed event players would be able to use cards from the Innistrad, Dark Ascension, and Avacyn Restored expansions

Extended

  • Deck Size: minimum of 60 cards, no maximum but you must be able to shuffle your deck, optional sideboard of exactly 15
  • No more than 4 copies of any one card, excluding basic lands
  • Uses cards from the expansion blocks and core sets from the past four years.
    • Current Extended format includes Zendikar, Scars of Mirrodin, Innistrad, and Return to Ravnica as well as the 2011, 2012, and 2013 core sets.

Modern

  • Deck Size: minimum of 60 cards, no maximum but you must be able to shuffle your deck, optional sideboard of exactly 15
  • No more than 4 copies of any one card, excluding basic lands
  • Uses cards from every core set and expansion block since Eighth Edition and the Mirrodin block.

Vintage

  • Deck Size: minimum of 60 cards, no maximum but you must be able to shuffle your deck, optional sideboard of exactly 15
  • No more than 4 copies of any one card, excluding basic lands
  • GO CRAZY!!! Any Magic card printed, with the exception of a handful of banned cards, are legal in vintage. This means cards from any core sets, expansions, special sets, supplements, promotional cards, duel decks, Commander decks, and probably some things I haven’t heard of yet.

Legacy

  • Deck Size: minimum of 60 cards, no maximum but you must be able to shuffle your deck, optional sideboard of exactly 15
  • No more than 4 copies of any one card, excluding basic lands
  • Um, it’s kind of like Vintage because everything is fair game, but it’s not like Vintage because some of the cards are banned. I’ll be honest, I’m not really sure.
    • If you’re playing Legacy, you probably don’t need to be reading this article.

 

A note on banned and restricted cards: In Constructed formats, some cards are banned (cannot be used at all) or restricted (only 1 per deck). These cards are different for each Constructed format, so if you plan on playing one, make sure you check the restricted and banned cards list first.

 

The Lands Beyond (Strange Stuff) 

Two-Headed Giant: You and a partner play together against another dynamic duo. Teammates share each turn as well as a life total that starts at 30, but all players have their own deck. Strategizing and talking between teammates is allowed. Any Constructed format can be played this way, and I’ve even seen it played Sealed Deck. Minimum deck size and banned cards from the chosen format still apply. In addition, the two teammates together may not have more than four of any one card in their two decks.

Pauper: This format is usually played online. Any set released online is eligible for play, but only those cards with a rarity value of ‘common’ (as opposed to ‘uncommon’ or ‘rare’) can be used. If a card was released in one set as a common and in another set as an uncommon, it is legal for play in Pauper. Otherwise, decks are similar to those used in Constructed, with a minimum of 60 cards, optional 15 card sideboard, and no more than 4 cards of the same kind.

Commander: I have absolutely no idea. I’ve read the Wizards of the Coast page on it four times and I’m still a bit fuzzy. It’s weird, go read it for yourself.

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