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By: Flippers_Giraffe, Simon Smith
Sep 16 2010 1:20pm
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MTGO Guide to formats 

From my last article which was the third part of my Angel series Lord Erman raised a good point that looking at the history of a particular creature type is not really something a lot of players will be interested in reading unless you hang on the tribal fence. I had also noticed the decline in viewers as well. The point Lord Erman raised was why restrict yourself to a creature type when you could do the history of a whole colour from Alpha to present. Now this seemed like a good idea and I done some investigating and decided that I might give it a go but while I was thinking another idea popped into my head, why not look a bit further into the game first to see what's on offer which gave me the idea for the article you are reading now.

The thought I had was why not do an article on the actual formats of the game. A lot of our player base spend most of their online lives in the casual room playing Standard or Classic, yes I'm referring to the casual crowd as this is where most people start their Magic the Gathering journey. Off line it would most likely be the kitchen table where you are introduced by a friend or possibly you might find yourself in a games shop and pick up a starter or precon to give the game ago.   

Originally when Magic the Gathering was first released with Alpha and Beta the game was played with Ante rules which meant that when the duel started the top card of each players deck was set aside and the winner of the match won both cards. This was later changed as it was considered gambling and also a contributing factor is players didn't like to lose their cards that they spent hard earned money on. Imagine if your opponents ante was a forest and yours a Black Lotus and you lost the duel.

After a few years the DCI sprang into action with a proper format base and event structure and things have gone from strength to strength from their which leads into the Constructed formats.


Vintage (Type 1) / Classic (MTGO) - Originally called Type 1 and now Vintage which is what you might know it as is the format where everything is allowed apart from Ante cards and a few others that are not deemed playable like Chaos Orb and Shazarad as they cause issues with the rules when played. There is a restricted list as well to keep the format stable. The closest MTGO is to this format is Classic which is currently missing a number of key cards the most important are the power nine, Black Lotus, Mox Ruby, Mox Emerald, Mox Sapphire, Mox Jet, Mox Pearl, Timetwister, Ancestral Recall and Time Walk. It is hoped that these cards will appear in December in the Masters Edition 4 set. The banned / restricted list for Vintage can be found here.   

Legacy (Type 1.5) - Legacy was originally called Type 1.5 and was changed to Legacy in 2004 where it started to be supported. It allows cards from all formats like Vintage but has a heavy banned list which excludes a lot of the cards deemed too powerful. The current banned list can be found here. Most games you find in the casual room online that are advertised as classic are really Legacy decks but the format has only been added recently and the player base is so used to setting up games as classic that the format hasn't caught on yet.

Extended - Extended is a highly volatile format its only usually played when the pro tour supports it otherwise you won't see many games being advertised in the casual room. All this may change soon as Wizards is cleansing the format from October it will only be the  Lorwyn-Shadowmoor, Shards of Alara and Zendikar blocks with the 2010 and 2011 core sets. This will mean all of the powerful cards and combos will be gone, I was going to say all the expensive cards as well but with the current price issues with Mythic's that's no longer the case.

Standard - Standard is the most popular format for events in paper and online it's the top format which Wizards really pushes to be played, well they would as it's where they make all their money. After rotation in October the format will be the 2011 core set, Zendikar Block and Scars of Mirrodin. Std is one of the most expensive formats to play in as its continually rotating its not so bad if your a casual player but if you're in it for the competition then you could end up paying lots for the top cards when each set is introduced.

Block Constructed - Block constructed is a fun format that I like to play casually but it can get stale after a few months. The format consists of the cards only from the current block so for example it would currently be Zendikar, Worldwake and Rise of the Eldrazi. In October this will change to only Scars of Mirrodin block which is when I will start playing it again in the casual room.

Pauper - Commons only magic is the name of the game with this format. Originally pauper had no support and was run by players and still is too this day but Wizards saw the prospect of the format and decided to support the classic version which is very popular at present. If you fancy a very cheap format then this is the one for you. Pauper is also the reason why a lot of commons are more expensive than the rares in some sets.  

100 Card Singleton - 100 card singleton is based on the classic online format. Your deck must contain 100 cards but as the name of the format suggests you can only have one of any one card in your deck apart from basic lands. The format is quite popular in the casual room but struggles to kick it's event off each week.

Every now and then Tarmotog does an article about 100 card singleton which is always a good read.

60 Card Singleton - This is the little brother of 100 card singleton, this time round the format is based in the Std with a 60 card deck size. You don't see many games of this in the casual room at the moment and it's a supported format.

Momir Basic - This format is entirely based on the Momir Avatar and is available in the two man queues. It's a fun format to try out if you are unsure what to do on a lazy afternoon when you don't feel like building new decks and reading up on the latest tech. 

All of the above formats are fully supported online the further down the time line you go though the less supported the format is so you will only see a few classic events here and the but there will always be a Standard event with not long to go before its kicked off. For any of these formats when you have a deck you're happy with take it into the Tournament Practice room and spend a good few days testing it to make sure it's up to the right level before you jump into an event the nest way to test after the TP room is most likely the two man queue's.

Now let's have a look at the formats that are not supported by events run by Wizards some of these were at one point or another in time and some of these have never been looked at for online play. At the start of each format I'll mention if it's supported by a player run events (PRE) as some of these could be if someone was interested. 

Freeform (currently no PRE's) - Freeform is the way magic used to be played if you remove the Anti rule. The idea is a simple one you have a minimum of 40 cards for your deck base but no restrictions to the number of allowed cards. so for example you could run a storm deck with 20 Lotus Petal's or a deck of 30 Lightning Bolt's and ten mountain's.

Tribal Classic (currently Tribal Apocalypse) - The requirement's for tribal decks are that you must have 1/3rd of your deck as your chosen tribe this also could be Elves or a sub type like Warriors. There are hundreds of different tribes that you can use in the format from the ever popular like humans to the strange like Horror's. It's a great format that can push your imagination.

This format was once supported by Wizards online but that was before my time so I'm unsure why they stopped but at a guess it would be today with power creep issues as in a competitive event it would end up being classic combos built round a tribal shell. The casual room always has players looking for tribal classic games and you will never know what tribe you will face it's a great format for casual players.

Tribal Std (currently no PRE's) - This is the std version of the above format and isn't very popular online, it was re-introduced in Lorwyn block and Wizards tried to push it then but it wasn't much different to normal Std at that time as Lorwyn is a tribal block at heart. It's been left on the side line ever since. It could be an interesting format at this moment in time as Std has a good range of different creature types, if you can put up with 100 Vampire decks though.    

Bring your own Standard (Currently BYOS) - This is a very interesting format that I wish was available in the client not being there doesn't mean the format can't be active. The idea for the format is that you choose a core set and two block to make your deck for example M2011 as your core set and Mirage as one of your blocks and the other Shards of Alara this will give you the option of playing cards from the following sets M2011, Mirage, Visions, Weatherlight, Shards of Alara, Conflux and Alara Reborn. This is a relatively new player run event online and is currently in its second season and is really worth looking into if you like deck building challenges.

Pauper (Currently PDCMagic) - Why have I brought up Pauper again you may ask well its because when Wizards decided to support classic pauper there were still a lot of players who played the other formats of pauper like Standard, Extended and Tribal. These events are still really active and you can find one on most nights of the week in the anything goes room. They also have a fantastic community as well which can be found along with the event list on the PDCMagic site. 

Prismatic (Currently no PRE's) - Now there are a few PRE's that happen from time to time for this format but it's not very often. Wizards did support this format back in the old days in V2 I believe but could be wrong. The minimum deck size for this format is 250 cards which must contain must contain at least 20 white cards, 20 blue cards, 20 black cards, 20 red cards, and 20 green cards. Multicolor and split cards count as one color or the other, not both. The format is fun to play but does require a lot of deck building skills.

Rainbow Stairwell (Currently no PRE's) - In Rainbow Stairwell, players make a 60 card deck utilizing 6 of each basic land, or 2 of 10 different multiple color producing lands, along with 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. I've not tried my hand at Rainbow Stairwell but it does look an interesting format, I do see players looking for games from time to time in the casual room.

Vanguard (Currently no PRE's) - Wizards did support this once upon a time in Std but have since withdrawn all support and even stopped ability's to the new vanguard cards to make sure that it dies off. Vanguard is a normal 60 card deck built within your format like Std or Classic, you then choose an Avatar card and add it to your deck as your 61st card.

Vanguard has gone on to generate it's own sub formats which are Momir which is supported in the two man queue's and also other combinations in the casual room using the Jhoira of the Ghitu and Stonehewer Giant avatars.

You can find loads of deck ideas by checking out Cotton Rhetoric's articles for Vanguard.

Kaleidoscope (Currently no PRE's) - This format was introduced when Shards of Alara was released online. The format is 60 cards/Extended and is currently in the deck editor which makes it easy to build for. The format is for multi coloured cards only excluding lands, it is fund to play but I wish they opened it up to classic as it would widen the pool.

Permanent Magic (Currently no PRE's) - This one hasn't to my knowledge been tried online. It's a simple format 60 cards Classic, Legacy, Extended or Std. You are only allowed to cast permanent's so no instants or sorcery's which would be good for players who don't like counter spells. 

Precon War / Theme Decks / Duel Decks (Currently no PRE's) - Precon War is a paper format where players play each other with their err.. precons. Online this would be theme decks or duel decks. Duel decks are a format option when opening a new game so this could be easy although very limiting. Theme Decks would be the best way forward online. 

Old School Constructed (Currently no PRE's) - The deck format for this 60 cards as usual but you are only allowed to use cards from the following sets Alpha, Beta, Unlimited, Revised, Arabian Nights, Antiquities, Legends, The Dark, Fallen Empires - Legacy Ban list applies. This could be done online as most of the cards are now available via Masters Edition sets and would be an interesting format.  

237 Magic (Currently no PRE's) - For this format, you build a deck out of cards with a converted mana cost of two, three, or seven (and basic lands). You can play cards with buyback as long as the original spell has a converted mana cost of two, three, or seven. Concerning split cards, both sides of the card must meet the requirements. Counterbalance is banned in 237 Magic.

Peasant (Currently no PRE's) - Sometimes you seen an event for this but it's not very often. The format is commons and no more than five uncommon cards. No rare cards.

King (Currently no PRE's) - King magic is the opposite of Peasant magic where you can have no more than five uncommon cards in your deck and the rest are basic lands and rares. No common cards.

Heirloom (Currently Heirloom) - The Heirloom format is midway between Peasant and Pauper where all the cards in your deck must be below a certain price range depending on rarity. Current card list can be found here.


Draft - Drafts are the biggest income for Wizards, Once you go down the draft road its quite easy to become addicted and spend a lot of money trying to enhance your drafting skills. If you are a casual player like me then you might find that the swiss drafts are the best value for money as they give you more play time for your money.

For those that don't know there are four types of drafts 4-3-2-2, 8-4, Swiss and Nix Tix/Packs. The same rules apply where you have three boosters between the table each you take it in turn to choose a card from your booster and then pass it to the next person until each card in the round of packs is taken. This is done for each of the players three packs in turn giving you your card pool to play with. The prizes are defined by the type of drafts 4-3-2-2 and 8-4 are the number of boosters you win for the top positions of the draft. This is the same for Nix Tix/Packs but you don't pay entry fee for Nix Tix events and Nix Packs means you pay for the draft with tickets rather than using boosters.      

Sealed - Sealed events are where you bring your boosters to the event but instead of passing the pack like what you do for drafts when the event starts the system opens all your packs and you build your deck out of the cards within. 

Leagues - Leagues used to be supported in the old version of the client V2 but due to programming issues haven't arrived on V3 yet. Leagues are very similar to sealed events where you play with the cards in your boosters that are opened at the start of the event. The difference is that leagues last for four weeks each week you are allowed to open an additional booster to add to your card pool to hopefully strengthen your deck. There is a player run league currently running every other month called the Coalition League, you can find more details here

4 booster sealed (TNM) - These are quite new and run on a schedule for the new Thursday Night Magic events, I haven't tried these yet but to intend at having a try when Scars comes out. You can find more info here for September's schedule. 


FFA (Currently no PRES) - FFA stands for free for all where all the players are against each other in a battle to the death, you can't just bring any deck from the casual room to these games as they will not be for to survive the constant onslaught. After a few games you will find yourself looking through your online collection at cards you have never used before, which I think is great. If you're wondering if its worth trying then you are half way there, jump into a game and give it a shot it's all about having a good time. 

Two Headed Giant (Currently Tournament of Kings (Std)) - This is a format I like to play now and then with my fellow clan members. You need four players two on each team which share a combined life total. You can then attack the person sitting opposite you but can cast spells at either opponent some tables in the multi players room are just random people looking for games and some are team games which will be a lot harder to win against as their decks will work very well together. 

EDH/Commander (Currently Sunday Commander and Chaos EDH) - Commander is the name of the format online it uses the same rules for 100 card singleton where your deck size must be 100 cards and you can only have one of any one card in your deck apart from basic lands and feature a "General". The General must be a legendary creature, and all cards in the deck can only have mana symbols on them from the General's colours (from its casting cost). The general starts in the command zone and can be cast from their like a normal creature. When the commander is killed it goes back to the command zone and can be recast each time with an increased cost of two mana each time. More information on Commander I'd suggest you read the articles by Leviathan and Lythand.  

5-Player Star (Currently 5 Moons) - 5-Player Star involves exactly five players, each playing one of the colors of Magic and trying to defeat the two diametrically opposed players. Theoretically, the five decks should be equally balanced, so that the game is based more on skill than on deck strength.

Emperor (Currently no PRE'S) - I'm not going to into this format much as I don't know much about it myself, instead I'm going to point you to an article from our very own Pete Jahn here

Well that's all from me this week I hope I've interested a few of you in trying out some new formats or player run events. I was going to add some card images but felt they were too distracting so I hope it's not too bland.

If you have a PRE that's not listed here than drop a note in the comments.



 My PureMTGO Archive / The Rare Drafter - August / The Coalition League   



Nice clarifications there, by Westane at Thu, 09/16/2010 - 13:27
Westane's picture

Nice clarifications there, enjoyed it. Also, what's a guy gotta do to get Cube Drafting supported on MTGO o.O?

It's strange you mention cube by Flippers_Giraffe at Thu, 09/16/2010 - 17:06
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It's strange you mention cube drafting but I did have a good think about how this could be brought online while writing this article as a PRE.

I have a lot of things worked out of how it could be done but I'm struggling to find a fast way for players to pick cards out of the generated packs in a timely fashion.

I'm sure it can be done but may take a while for me to think of a way to get round the final piece of the puzzle.

As a PRE it would be by Westane at Thu, 09/16/2010 - 17:15
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As a PRE it would be difficult. If WotC decided to support it, it'd be a snap, so long as a template was provided/enforced (Also easy).

Wizards could only do this by Flippers_Giraffe at Thu, 09/16/2010 - 17:20
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Wizards could only do this when they finish work on the collection server and thats the day leagues come back as well....

I like the references to all by ArchGenius at Thu, 09/16/2010 - 13:40
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I like the references to all of the PREs. I'm sure those will be helpful to a lot of players.

I just wanted to add that 4 Booster sealed deck tournaments are available (in M2011 and ROE) all the time in the sealed deck room and not just as a part of TNM (Thursday Night Magic).

Rise of the Eldrazi 4-booster sealed deck tournaments were just added last night after the extended downtime.

I didnt know that thanks for by Flippers_Giraffe at Thu, 09/16/2010 - 17:07
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I didnt know that thanks for the info.

fantastic article, but Prism by JustSin at Thu, 09/16/2010 - 14:22
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fantastic article, but Prism could be a bit more expanded to include Singleton and PPS variations

there were a few tournies for prism back in the day, but it didn't last long and a lot of people lost interest in Prism when they did their latest update on the BnR list for it that removed like all tutors and transmutes and esp eternal witness

peasant pre by niabock at Thu, 09/16/2010 - 14:49
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There is a peasant pre that has been running every sunday night for the past few years. Event threads show up on the wizards pre forums with decklists/discussion/whatever on pdcmagic.com

Thanks I wasnt sure on the by Flippers_Giraffe at Thu, 09/16/2010 - 17:14
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Thanks I wasnt sure on the details for the pre, I have seen it a few times on the forums but wasnt sure how regular it was and couldnt find a stable group to link to for when people reference this article in the future.

I wasnt aware it was under pdcmagic.com

Peasant by Amar at Thu, 09/16/2010 - 15:54
Amar's picture

Thanks Niabock, I was just about to take offense at that omission. :)

There have been a lot of interesting formats popping up in the PRE room lately, including the non-sure-I've-heard-of-it-before 5 moons. I would advise anyone to browse through and seeing all the different opportunities that exist.

Excellently put. I discussed by AJ_Impy at Thu, 09/16/2010 - 16:30
AJ_Impy's picture

Excellently put. I discussed the history of Tribal as a tournament format in my paired article with Lord Erman covering the reasons for its demise. Essentially, you're right.

I'd just like to apologise by Flippers_Giraffe at Thu, 09/16/2010 - 17:32
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I'd just like to apologise for the typos in the article I did fix a lot of them and then my browser crashed and I lost 1/3rd of the work and all the corrections. I did go back through a second time but I wasn’t in the best of moods and I see a few escaped me.

Old School Constructed sounds by Leviathan at Thu, 09/16/2010 - 17:42
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Old School Constructed sounds like it would bring back a ton of nostalgia. I actually made an old Erhnam & Burn 'em deck with nothing newer than Ice Age a while back and had fun with it playing casual Classic. People running around playing Geddons and Hymns would get annoying to some people, but that's how we used to do it back in the day. Ah, the good old days.

Also, thanks for the link!

Erhnamgeddon was one of my by Paul Leicht at Thu, 09/16/2010 - 21:35
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Erhnamgeddon was one of my favorite decks to play as was a 3c variant on the lines of Naya (Bolts, Plows, Elves, Angels, Regrowth, Various Red men.)

Good article Flippers very by Lord Erman at Fri, 09/17/2010 - 02:27
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Good article Flippers very useful.

But where is Core Set Constructed?

Also for Block Constructed you wrote: "The format consists of the cards only from the current block". Well, my Tempest Block deck which I played in weekend challenges and 2mans sometime ago, would like to have a word with you!

Apart from those, very nice.


Block constructed is an odd by Flippers_Giraffe at Fri, 09/17/2010 - 03:39
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Block constructed is an odd one to cover from what I remember (as I'm at work at the moment)is that not all of the blocks are present in the client to pick from in the casual room.

I did forget Core set constructed.

Thx for the Article - Heirloom by Nagarjuna at Fri, 09/17/2010 - 07:49
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thx for this very good overview of formats! there is always something new to discover! for me it was HEIRLOOM a few weeks ago and i can tell you one thing: ITS AWESOME!!! A really deep and coompetetive Format with an amazing cardpool, where all relevant cards are priced below 0.21 Tix (Without Mythics they are 1 Tix or less...)

check the Article by xaoslegend here on puremtgo: http://puremtgo.com/articles/heirloom-constructed

see u for a heirloom match or in the free heirloom event running saturday 11 am

Best wishes