Last week, I began my odyssey through every Magic format. Large and small, I wanted to rank them all! You can check out part 1, a look into niche formats, here.
The polling results from last week’s article were gathered on social media, where I asked “What are your three favorite formats to play right now?” and tallying the results by hand. It was a treat to hear about all of the creative ways people have found to customize their play experience and it was a privilege to share these formats with the readers. I even learned about a few new formats that I look forward to trying out in 2019.
Now all that is left is to count down the final 10 formats. I wanted to give as many people as possible the opportunity to weigh in on the discussion, so I created a poll and encouraged players and fans alike to vote for their three favorite formats. I was blown away to find that over 1,000 individuals had cast votes! 1,158, to be precise. The quantity of votes so exceeded my expectations that I had to go out of pocket to subscribe to the survey service for the month since they cap the number of votes in a free poll.
I decided to let the voters pick three formats, as opposed to just one, for a few reasons. The most important reason is that in my experience people don’t just play Magic one way. It’s true that lots of people specialize at a favorite format, but I wanted my results to reflect the range of formats people enjoyed in 2018.
Players were not required to vote for exactly three options, but rather had the option to vote for up to three formats. The fact that most people voted for more than one format reinforces my observation that people tend to play Magic in more than just one way.
Lastly, I’d like to stress that an article like this is for fun and to create a dialogue about the various ways we, as fans and players, enjoy playing a game we love. Personally, I enjoy playing all 10 of these formats right now and I think there are valid reasons to cast a vote for any one of them.
Whether you are scoping out this article with the intention of trailblazing your way into a new format or merely checking in to see how your favorite formats ended in the voting, I hope you enjoy the series. And again, thanks to everybody who participated in the voting and in the comments discussion over the past week! It’s been a really fun series to write.
10. Old School Magic
5.09% OF BALLOTS
What could possibly be a more fitting place to start off today’s list than a format that embodies the beginning?
There isn’t a singular, unified, sanctioned way to play Old School Magic, but that hasn’t stopped the format from cultivating a loyal and dedicated fan following. There are competing ideologies about everything from B&R lists, to set legality, to game rules. How do you feel about mana burn, interrupts, 4th Ed., and Chaos Orb flips? Welcome to the diverse points of contention in OSM.
The one constant that ties all OSM variants together is that the format is a celebration of the nostalgia of the early years of Magic. Magic continues to thrive, decades later, but it’s important to remember that without the amazing gameplay and iconic cards of the mid-1990s that none of this could have happened.
Old School affords fans the opportunity to return to a time when Magic was new and again experience the game as it was first intended. The format has a fiercely loyal following and some of the most fun tournaments on the planet. The annual events at the North American Eternal Weekend are among the most fun and spirited I’ve ever participated in.
If traveling back to 1995 sounds like something you’d enjoy, check out this link. It’s an invaluable resource for anybody looking to learn more about OSM.
6.39% of Ballots
As a huge Vintage fan, I’ve got to admit that I find this ranking both accurate and concerning. It’s also worth pointing out that my social media (which I used to encourage voting) is biased toward Eternal players, since I have a disproportionately high number of Eternal friends. Even with a head start, Vintage lagged far behind in the race.
I received comments on social media from two individuals I believe are currently the most influential in Vintage: Rich Shay and Stephen Menendian. Rich said he didn’t vote for Vintage in his top 3. Stephen said the current Vintage format is his favorite of all time. An unbelievably broad range from two experts! If nothing else, Vintage gameplay is in a polarizing state.
Personally, I played Vintage exactly once this year. I made Top 8 at the SCG Power 9 over the summer and won a Mox Pearl. I enjoyed the gameplay and the format. It still felt like good old, trusty Vintage to me.
I do believe the financial constraints of the format have become backbreaking in paper form. It’s simply not accessible to 99.9% of the population and the high cost of entry has been bleeding the format of players for years now.
Despite a strong showing at the Power 9 Open, I opted to skip one of my favorite annual events last autumn: The North American Vintage Championship at Eternal Weekend. While I had a lot of fun playing and hanging out with the Vintage community, I also felt uneasy and anxious about carrying around tens of thousands of dollars in my deck box. I found myself constantly clutching my hoodie pocket. I felt uncomfortable shuffling collector’s items of such value. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when I received a deck check from an inexperienced judge who unsleeved my Beta Black Lotus and handled it roughly while checking its authenticity in a manner I would have found objectionable of Standard cards.
Don’t deflower my Lotus, bro.
With Vintage it has never been a problem of the games not being awesome, and the community has always been beyond compare. Yet, I have serious concerns about the future of Magic’s oldest format in the years to come, especially with MTG Arena and the esports angle being prioritized over the old guard. Players, I might add, who have done an unbelievable and thankless job of keeping the format going year after year.
= Jon Snow.
I’d love to see Vintage climb the ladder in terms of being a format more people can enjoy and experience in paper and community for 2019. I’d love to see the no tolerance stance on proxies reexamined for obscenely expensive Reserve List cards.
It’s not even just an issue of the cards being inaccessible. I have the cards and don’t feel comfortable playing with them anymore.
6.65% of Ballots
Premodern is sort of the new hotness when it comes to fun nostalgia formats. It is similar to Old School Magic in the sense that there are competing regional rules sets for deck construction and game play. It’s also a grassroots format that has gained a lot of popularity in 2018.
The binding theme of these variants is to create a space to play with the cards in between Old School and Modern. Many Premodern variants begin with 4th Ed. and Ice Age, and conclude with Scourge. So, old card face. The format has the flavor of the Old Extended formats of the early 2000s.
If returning to early 2000s Extended gets you excited, Joel Larsson’s format primer from earlier this year is a nice place to get started.
I was certainly surprised to see how much love Premodern got in the voting. It’s a format I look forward to trying out more and expect to see continued growth for in 2019.
21.34 % OF BALLOTS
It’s time to dry those Vintage tears and celebrate Magic’s best underdog story: Pauper!
I went with the reader’s vote in 2018, but last year when I ranked based on my opinion I put Pauper in second place overall. It goes without saying that I’m a huge fan of this format. I did cast ballots on the survey and one of my three picks was again, indeed, Pauper.
Last weekend I did Twitch coverage of the RIW Hobbies Pauper 1K Paper event in Livonia. It was a tough decision between playing and doing commentary. Fortunately, it was one of those “good tough decisions” where both options are great!
My opponent is hellbent, tapped out, and at 2 life. Which one do I cast!?
Chain Lightning on the stack. Bolt you!
Eight hours of commentating on the format only reinforced the positive impression of the format I had as a player. Not only is the format dynamic and interesting but the people who play are equally passionate. I respect that a lot, especially considering there are no MagicFests or Opens to prepare for.
I look at a format like Vintage that has been losing players for two decades straight and then I look at a format like Pauper that continues to grow and retain players. It’s a fairly simple dynamic. During coverage of the 1K my coverage partner, Stu Parnes, asked every player we interviewed or deck teched, “How much would it cost to buy a paper copy of your deck?”
Almost every complete 75 could be assembled for between $25 -$65 retail. Not only is it fairly reasonable to own a deck, but it’s reasonable to own many decks, which means that the average player can have multiple options to play on a weekly basis.
The people who love and support the format don’t do it for the cash, glory, or to hoist a trophy on the front page of a major website. They do it because Pauper is what fun Magic looks and feels like. The playing is its own reward.
It is also impressive that Pauper has managed to display serious staying power in 2018. Last year, a lot of players rebelled against particularly broken iterations of traditional competitive formats like Standard and Modern, and looked for alternatives. Remember Frontier? Exactly. Frontier who?
Even after Standard, Modern, and Legacy managed to right the ship and won back a lot of disgruntled mages, a solid contingent of players have continued to stick with Pauper. It’s no small task for a format that does not get large scale competitive tournament support. I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: I’d love to see a Pauper MagicFest or Open type event in 2019. A larger stage for fans of the format is the obvious next step in the continued growth of the format.
27.29% OF BALLOTS
Legacy rounds out the first half of today’s top 10 decks of 2018 and comes in solidly at #6. I don’t want to go too deep into crafting narratives from the list, but it’s worth pointing out that all five Eternal Constructed formats finished in the bottom 5 in terms of voting.
I was a little bit surprised to see Legacy in the bottom half of the top 10. I incorrectly predicted that voters would put Legacy soundly into 3rd or 4th place. I do believe it is a genuinely great format and is beloved by fans of the game.
With that being said, I did not put Legacy on my top 3 ballot this time around. I had it #3 last year. I don’t think I liked Legacy any less in 2018, but it’s more an issue of me really enjoying other formats right now.
2018 was an interesting year for Legacy.
I think the “silence” reflects a few phenomenons. First, we haven’t had many high profile events post-ban, which means that the pros haven’t been brewing, breaking it, and generating enthusiasm. It hasn’t been getting airtime on the radio.
Secondly, Arena has been dominating the conversation. Arena and Legacy are at the opposite end of the spectrum.
It’s kind of like asking, “How come nobody is into baseball?” Well, for starters, it’s football season.
I think the Deathrite Shaman ban was a good thing, and the format is in an overall good place. Once the initial Arena hype dies down and people start to get bored with their shiny new toy, I fully expect to see some of the luster and enthusiasm return to Legacy play.
With that being said, I think it speaks highly of the quality of a format when it has the second highest barrier of entry but still ends soundly in the middle of votes. If Legacy had the same buy-in price as Pauper, I believe it would have a legitimate shot at the number #1 spot on gameplay alone.
Not only are the games great but Eternal formats are such a cool touchstone that connects the current with the past. The world has changed so much in even the past 10 years that many aspects of modern day-to-day life would have felt or sounded like Orwellian science fiction.
Drones delivering the mail? Presidential nominees talk smack about each other on Twitter? An Azorius planeswalker with a +1 loyalty ability that untaps lands and draws cards? Has the whole world gone mad?
Despite how much everything is always changing, Legacy still feels like Legacy. I can still tap Tundra and cast Brainstorm. I can still pay 1 life and exile a blue card from my hand to cast Force of Will without paying its mana cost. The cards I Brainstorm into and/or pitch to Force might change as frequently as the seasons but the game remains the same.
So that brings us to the conclusion of “Part 2 of the Best Formats of 2019 Ranked.”
Stay tuned for the conclusion where I’ll count down from #5 to #1. Any prediction on how the top 5 will play out?
These are the options (in no particular order): Standard, Modern, Limited, Cube, and Commander.
Has anything really surprised you so far? I don’t want to spoil anything for next time but I will share that the difference between 5th and 1st is only by a margin of just over 100 votes. It was a very tight race. Again, thanks to all who voted.
Also, if you want to share your top 3 ballots or top 10 lists in the comments I’d love to check those out as well!