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Magic: the Gathering Formats

Did we ever tell you guys we really like Magic?

Okay, it’s addictive, there’s no two ways about it, but out of a fairly simple premise there are just so many different ways to play, and we’re not just talking about different tactics, or all of the different deck types you can build. Officially and unofficially there are so many formats of play that can alter the way you think and how you play the deck that you know so well, and it can keep the same old one-on-one slug-fest from getting a little dull.


Two-Headed Giant

Without question this is the best format for new players to try before even going it alone. Two-Headed Giant is a two against two game in which each team shares a common health total (increased to 30 instead of the standard 20), take their turns at the same time and sharing phases, but otherwise remaining entirely separate. So when the opposing team attacks, either player can choose to defend the life total, but they cannot target allied creatures as if they were their own, or share mana with their partner.

Two-Headed is a great way to introduce new players, giving them an experienced partner to advice and demonstrate without hampering their ability to perform within the game, and without the players opposite interfering to their own advantage. It’s also generally fun to buddy-up complimentary decks, and it can also help offset when one player has a few bad draws, their other head might have better joy, and keep them from suffering too badly at the hand fate deals them.

Five Point Star

In a five point star their are five players (duhh), the two players to either side of you are your allies, the two opposite are your opponents. Two enemies working together, two allies working against each other. The winner is the first player without enemies. Perhaps most interesting of all in this format is that even if you’re eliminated by your opponents, if your allies then subsequently knock out your opponents without eliminating each other, you still win. It’s possible, and it happens more often than you might believe.

Traditionally players will use mono-coloured decks and sit in a way that matches the colour wheel on the back of the cards (red next to black, next to blue, next to white, next to green, next to red) so that traditionally opposed colours are sat opposite, and traditionally allied colours are together, but if you have five players and a bunch of decks it’s a very interesting dynamic to play with.

Magic: the Gathering


This one generally requires an extra, and very specific deck, the scheme deck.

The Archenemy is one player with 40 hit points, playing against a group of players who have 20 each. Turns are divided between the archenemy and the group, who take their turn simultaneously. It doesn’t exactly sound like a fair fight to begin with, but the scheme deck changes the tide altogether, each of the twenty cards has the power to shift the game dramatically, and they are played for free at the start of the enemy’s turn. Some summon dragons, some simply conjure extra land to the field, others give the group of “heroes” an excruciating penalty.

Archenemy scheme decks are still fairly easy to come by, and I strongly recommend seeing if you can find some because the format can make for a hilarious all-against-one scenarios, although it’s a bad idea to elect anyone to the role whose decks are usually a terrifying ordeal to get through to begin with.


Commander Decks

This one’s a little easier for most collectors to build decks for. The actual format of the game is as normal, but the decks that are built for Commander are quite different. From your collection you find one Legendary Creature card, and then build a deck of one hundred cards (including your newly elected commander) around it, with two major restrictions. No other mana colour can appear in the deck that isn’t in the cost of your commander, for example if I were to choose the dragon Silumgar (black and blue), I wouldn’t be able to use a card like Jungle Hollow because it produces a colour of mana Silumgar doesn’t use (green). There can also be only one of each named card (except basic lands).

In the game itself your Commander is held outside the deck in the “commander zone”, from which you can play them as if they were in your hand, and where they return if they are killed, removed or exiled and can be brought back into play for an extra two mana. Players start the game at 30 health.

The format doesn’t challenge so much the way you play, rather it can be a real test of your deck building skills. It can also be a real test of the strength (alright, size) of your collection.


For those of you with a rather excessive collection filled with dozens of that one card you’re never going to use, the pauper format is another deck-builder where you only use common cards. All other rules remain the same. It sounds simple enough, but when you’ve suddenly lost a lot of your big heavy-hitting rare spells, or even the dependable lynch-pin uncommons then suddenly your outlook on the game changes altogether, becoming about combinations that are tried and tested and will come together every time.

Those are just a few formats of Magic: the Gathering you can use to change up the way you play, many of which you’ve probably already tried yourself, but who knows, if you’re just getting started or even a veteran there may be something in there you’ve never done. Or if you’ve done it all, what Commanders have you used? Have you got any Pauper decks that have worked out well? Did this article introduce you to any formats you’ve never heard of that you’re now interested in? Share your stories and deck ideas in the comment section down below, or over on Facebook and Twitter.


3 responses

  1. I wish Hearthstone would add a mode like two headed giant.


    April 13, 2016 at 5:59 pm

  2. Pingback: How To Play Magic: the Gathering Draft | GeekOut South-West

  3. Pingback: Drafting M19 – Magic: the Gathering | GeekOut South-West

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