Finding the best Magic: The Gathering format to play as a new player can be overwhelming. With Wizards of the Coast officially recognizing over 20 formats, a new player could easily get lost in trying to figure out which is the best for them. Luckily, many of these formats are easy to start out with and share several common themes that make experimenting with different ones a more accessible experience.
Most Magic: The Gathering formats follow a few basic rules. Many are bound by a specific deck size, with 60 cards in the main deck and 15 in the sideboard being the most common, while formats like Commander can have 100 cards in a single deck. Generally, matches are one-on-one in 60-card formats, with two opponents trying to whittle each other’s life total down to 0. There is also a pool of banned or restricted cards, such as Magic: The Gathering‘s Ragavan: Nimble Pilferer. The number of copies of cards also factors in when building a deck, with formats like Standard and Modern allowing four copies of the same (non-basic land) card per deck and Commander restricting it to one copy per deck.
When choosing a Magic: The Gathering format to get into, one must look at a variety of factors. These factors range from how complicated the rules are to the average price for decks in the format. Other considerations must take place on a personal level, such as which formats are readily played among those in friend circles or supported by a Local Game Store (or LGS). Measuring these factors together will produce an ideal list of formats to begin a Magic: The Gathering journey.
The Standard format in Magic: The Gathering focuses on building decks around the latest sets that have been released, like (at time of writing) the Streets of New Capenna 3-Color focused set. These decks are comprised of 60 cards, with a 15-card sideboard that can be swapped in and out of a deck between rounds of play. There can be no more than four copies of any non-basic land card in the deck. The limited pool of cards means that everyone operates on a somewhat level playing field, as the constant change forces innovation in deckbuilding. Constant change can be seen as a negative though, as players are forced to make yearly changes to their decks and playstyle as sets rotate out. It is because of this that the format has seen a gradual cool-off in terms of physical players, with many people looking to Magic: The Gathering Arena for the Standard experience.
Modern format tournaments can frequently be found at an LGS. While similar to Standard in terms of deck construction, the pool of cards and mechanics, like Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty‘s Reconfigure, is much larger. Starting with the Mirrodin set, released in 2003, every set of Magic: the Gathering is legal in Modern, including the highly-praised Modern Horizons sets. The format doesn’t rotate, meaning that players have time to build their favorite decks up without fear of cards being rendered unplayable by a set rotation. While this can lead to a near-endless combination of deck builds, Modern does suffer from a lack of diversity in played decks. Modern players quickly latch on to the most useful or powerful cards and build decks around them, leading to a set list of decks making an appearance in nearly every modern tournament. The MTG Banned and Restricted Card List, a set of cards that can’t be used in official play, does help mitigate this, but lack of deck variation does still plague Modern. This also means staple cards are more expensive, making for a higher financial barrier for entry than other formats.
Magic: The Gathering‘s Commander format brings four players together in multiplayer fights. Commander decks are 100 cards – 99 individual (non-repeating) cards in the main deck, and a commander card. This commander must be a legendary creature, and the deck must only contain cards of that commander’s color identity. If a commander has Black and Blue on their card, then only Black, Blue, Black & Blue, or Colorless cards may appear in the deck.
Players always have access to cast their commanders, and games go until one player is left standing. Commander is more casual, and even has entire sets, like the recently released (as of June 2022) Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate, devoted to it. As such, it is important to find a good pod (group of players) that is playing on the same power level. Some players can dump thousands of dollars into a deck that will win on turn two, while others build their decks on a budget with flavor as the goal. Finding the right power level pod for a deck of similar power is key to enjoying a game of Commander.
Booster Draft in Magic: The Gathering takes some of the variations in card selection out of the game and replaces them with the random chance of opening booster packs. Booster Draft decks are comprised of 40 cards, which are gathered by opening new Magic: The Gathering booster packs and selecting one card from each before passing them to another player. The process is then repeated until everyone has drafted their set number of packs. This can lead to some interesting deck combinations, as no one knows going in what they will pull from a pack.
Magic: The Gathering cards come in four rarities: common, uncommon, rare, and mythic rare. The Pauper format restricts decks to containing only cards of the common rarity (or cards that have been printed at common previously) in the style of Standard or Modern. Generally, the power level (and price) of cards ascends as the rarity climbs, like Magic: The Gathering‘s Boseiju card. In addition to likely being the cheapest format to get into, this also ensures that players play on a similar power level. Though the lower rarity means that cards capable of triggering big, splashy plays are fewer and farther between, there are still plenty of ways for a Pauper game to be just as intense and exciting as any Standard or Modern game.
With such a variety of formats to choose from, new players to Magic: The Gathering can very easily be overwhelmed. Luckily, many common rule threads and the existence of casual formats mean that new players will always have some stability when first exploring the game. 2022 still holds many new MTG set releases, so new players will get to experience these with the same wonder as old pros. Going to a local LGS, finding a good pod of Magic: The Gathering players, and sitting down to their first game of Modern or Commander is an experience few Magic players forget.
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Author: Cody Prater