MTG Arena Formats Guide
When it comes to making decks, Magic: The Gathering fundamentally follows what is known as a format. In a nutshell, formats dictate the type of cards and sets that are allowed to be used per session. Formats mostly follow a set of deck-building principles, but are also mostly divided by how a particular set fits within the game’s release order.
In MTG Arena, formats are slightly modified, and do not have a one-to-one representation with its tabletop counterpart. This is because of one major inherent limitation: its card pool. Nonetheless, there is still a wide variety of formats to choose from. Plus, the most relevant one in terms of the latest set releases, is perhaps the most widely played within its digital game base.
MTG Arena Formats Guide Overview
- Constructed and Limited
- Constructed Formats
- Limited Formats
- Other Specific/Uncommon Formats
Constructed and Limited
At the highest classification level, constructed simply means that the deck is prepared in advance using cards within your personal collection. This is perhaps the most understood general format for any trading card game, as it intuitively creates the environment of collectability and usability within the cards that you accumulate for the hobby.
Limited, on the other hand, is a rather special format that involves creating a deck right after opening a set product package that you get in an event. Except for basic lands, you are not allowed to add other cards in your collection to a Limited format deck. You only use the immediate pool available right then and there.
Basic deck-building rules:
- Each deck must have 60 cards at minimum, and 250 at most.
- If the format requires a sideboard, it should have exactly 15 cards. No more, no less.
- Other rules should be referred to within each of the respective formats described in this guide.
MTG Arena mainly supports the following constructed formats:
The primary rotating format of Magic: The Gathering. This format allows the use of cards from sets that were released at least three years ago (previously it was just two years). This can be as little as 8 sets, extending up to 10 depending on what was recently released at that time.
Whenever there is a brand-new upcoming set that is not related to any other collaboration or special release, that set is usually Standard-legal. These releases often happen at least four times per year. The rotation adjustment period when sets are pushed out of Standard is always scheduled in September, so do check out every three years which sets are no longer legally usable in this format.
Additionally, whenever a card is reprinted in a Standard-legal set, other versions of that card in older sets effectively become usable in the format once again until that particular set rotates out.
This is the exclusive, digital-only rotating format introduced specifically for MTG Arena. It is intended as an offshoot of Standard, with the objective of a game-first approach, and a faster metagame that rotates more quickly, adapting to its exclusively digital nature. The format follows a two-year rotation, often supporting Standard sets with an appended Alchemy-based set release. In fact, barring the one-year gap between rotations, what is legal in Standard is usually also legal in Alchemy.
But what makes Alchemy truly unique from other formats, is that you have access to cards with special effects and mechanics that could only be used in MTG Arena. Abilities that would otherwise be impractical to use in tabletop games, such as Conjure and Seek.
This is the primary non-rotating format supported by MTG Arena. Although it was made exclusively for MTG Arena, it is not a direct analog for Pioneer or Modern. Instead, it has its build-up of the vast archive of cards available in tabletop versions, with the format curating the releases depending on the intended cards to be added for that year. If a card in your MTG Arena collection is no longer Standard-legal, it is most likely still usable in Historic, so you can still technically use any card in the game no matter what.
Like Alchemy, the Historic format supports the use of cards that don’t exist on tabletop releases, especially ones with effects that cannot be practically used on paper. However, the bigger focus is still on its non-rotating nature. So constructed format-wise, it is meant to be considered the be-all and end-all for your ever-increasing card collection in the game.
Brawl / Historic Brawl
A variant of the popular Commander format in tabletop. Like any typical Commander deck, you still get to build the deck within your chosen Commander’s identity, and all cards can only have one copy of each. But there are specific differences, such as:
- Life starts at 25 for one-on-one matches.
- Decks are limited to 60 cards, not 100.
- Regular Brawl uses Standard-legal cards, while Historic Brawl follows Historic-legal ones.
It should be noted that Brawl also uses its own banned list, which you should double-check in the appropriate sources if you are interested in playing the format.
Effectively, the Pioneer format of MTG Arena. As such, we can also describe it as a non-rotating format that supports cards from Return to Ravnica (tabletop set), up to the latest sets. The major difference, of course, is that cards released in MTG Arena are not necessarily a one-to-one match, since there are still a good portion of Pioneer cards that are still not released in the game.
It is similar to Standard, at least, as Explorer is meant to be a true digital analog of its tabletop counterpart. Meaning, that what you can play in Explorer, you should also be able to play in paper. This also means that it is actually quite different from Historic (despite being structurally similar), because it does not support digital-exclusive cards.
Unfortunately, because of the card implementation disparity, recreating popular decks in Pioneer is still not possible in Explorer even today. You can create less effective versions based on the available card pool, at least, but not the same level of potency until it eventually reaches parity in the near future.
For Limited, there is no technical difference between tabletop and player. The convenience of processing the drafting procedure is, of course, a given. But rules-wise and in terms of availability, the MTG Arena version is exactly the same:
For this most basic version of Draft, the game first needs to pick a Limited booster set. Eight players can then open three boosters total, and would pick cards while rotating the boosters with each other until a 40-card deck is created (including basic lands). The cards in your pool are then added to your card collection after the session.
In MTG Arena, the UI is already optimized for the format and will provide step-by-step procedures (including the selection of the three default boosters). You only have to select the 40+ cards as your pile, curate further the ones that you will actually use, and add basic lands to complete the 40-card deck requirement.
When participating in Booster Drafts, make sure to check the particular version you want to participate in:
- Quick draft – solo play with bots instead of humans. No timer limits prior to the actual game. Additional human participants can be added if they pick this mode. Played via best-of-one games,,and is ranked.
- Premier draft – this is the regular Booster draft mode with 8 human players, but is played in best-of-one games and ranked.
- Traditional draft – basic Booster draft session, so games are played in matches (best-of-three), and are unranked.
Because deck building in a Booster Draft is random and specific to only one set, some of the basic dynamics of choosing cards, as well as the efficiency of the cards themselves, can be significantly different. You should always check Limited ratings to know how a specific card should work in this type of format.
A somewhat middle-ground format that supports the randomness of Limited while having elements of a constructed format. Instead of picking cards one by one, you instead combine together half-decks which are selected at random for you. The cards included in each half-deck are always announced beforehand, so be sure to check the latest news on Jump In! events. Knowing the contents should at least help you prepare for how the play the matches in case a particular random combination works for you.
Other Specific/Uncommon Formats
(some of the most common ones)
These formats are not as widely played, and often only appear on special events. However, these may still be interesting to play, depending on your card pool availability. There are a huge number of these format variations depending on the theme and celebration style at play, but some of the more common ones are:
A specific constructed format that mainly follows either the deck building legality of Standard, Alchemy, or Historic, depending on what the specific Artisan event requires. The special caveat for this format is that all cards must either be common or uncommon rarity only. The rarity check is only applicable within the game, so even if a specific card was available as common in tabletop, if it is not common or uncommon in MTGA, it cannot be used.
A constructed format that lowers the bar even further to include only common cards. Because of the rather restricted card pool in MTG Arena, pauper decks in this game tend to be less effective than those available in tabletop. Also, take note of the special ban list for this particular format (usually indicated on the main event page in-game).
Choose a specific primary constructed format, then limit the deckbuilding to only one copy per card. Excludes basic lands, of course!
Special event-based Standard or Historic constructed format. However, a special “event only” ban list is implemented (which depends on the theme of the event).
A Limited format event where you simply pick 6 boosters for a particular chosen set, immediately build a 40-card deck out of it (including basic lands), and join the tournament straight away. No need to rotate the boosters nor choose the cards for the picked boosters.
A special Booster draft event that includes another exclusive set of reserve cards. These additional cards often showcase powerful effects, or those that can significantly change the way players usually pick their cards during Limited events. While the event is considered a fun, specialty format of its own, you don’t get to keep the cards, unlike when playing more traditional draft games.
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