Limited Magic is very special. It’s a way of playing that’s accessible to all players, with everyone on a completely level playing field. Best of all, Limited provides infinite variety, with no two games ever being quite the same.
Beyond the near-infinite variety of an individual Limited format, we’ve been lucky to access fresh sets of cards any time we’re at risk of getting bored. MTG is approaching its 30-year anniversary, and most of those years saw the creation of multiple distinct Limited formats. That’s a lot of packs opened, and a lot of decks built!
Today I’m looking back across all these years of Limited Magic, identifying the hits and misses and diving deep into what makes a Limited format truly great. At the end, I’ll offer my top 8 list of the best formats for Booster Draft.
This will be a mix of my own subjective thoughts, plus public opinion (or at least my subjective interpretation of public opinion!).
I started by scouring the internet for articles and rankings on the topic, as well as reading through discussions on Twitter and Reddit.
Next, I conducted an informal poll of players who’d “been around the block,” and were willing to share their thoughts with me. Some of them are among the best Limited players to ever crinkle a booster wrapper!
And yet, even if there could exist some kind of perfect, objective master list of best Limited formats, you might fairly ask, “Who cares?” I’m not in the business of telling people when they should (or even worse, shouldn’t) have fun. Particular formats will resonate with particular people. That’s totally fine, and doesn’t always require an explanation.
So if I give your favorite format a poor rating, I hope you won’t consider it a slight. It’s great if you’ve loved some formats outside of the top 8 list. In fact, I’d love to hear about it in the comments section. Maybe I’ll give them another look when I update the list for Magic’s 60th anniversary…
While most of this article comes to you through the lens of Booster Draft, it’s important to remember that that’s not the only way to play Limited. In fact, the same format that’s fun for Draft can be miserable for Sealed. Or the other way around.
Balance among colors and archetypes is important. In this regard, Booster Draft at least has some self-balancing qualities. If black is overpowered, then more people at the table will fight over black, which weakens it relative to the other colors. Sealed Deck has no such self-balancing quality. If black is overpowered, it might be the case that 90% of decks wind up being black. And if you didn’t open the good black cards, you might simply be out of luck.
A good Sealed format shouldn’t be too centered around bomb rares. Every format has bomb rares, but if a format is slower, with less all-purpose removal, then games will tend to drag on until someone inevitably finds an unanswered bomb. A good example is Rise of the Eldrazi, a format I would rate as excellent for Draft, but poor for Sealed.
Finally, a good Sealed format should have some – but probably not too much – mana fixing. Many Sealed pools lend themselves to splashing, and having to submit a seven Plains, seven Forest, four Mountain mana base just doesn’t lead to good Magic.
On the other hand, formats with too many cards which produce all five colors of mana start to break the color pie and throw deckbuilding restrictions out the window (Modern Horizons 2 comes to mind). I don’t think that’s particularly healthy either.