The current estimation is that there are over 20 million Magic players around the world right now. Around half those players participate in Magic tournaments ranging from the FNM all the way up to the Pro Tour. Having an understanding of the competitive Magic scene is critical to an FLGS's success in the Magic community.
Below is a break down of the different formats and tournament types you can use to fill your weekly schedule with.
The format of a tournament refers to what cards players can use to construct their decks from. Limited format events are different from constructed ones. In a limited event players don't have to bring any cards with them at all. The cards are provided at the beginning of the tournament by the organizer and are usually built into the cost of the entry fee.
Standard is one of the most popular formats because the sets that make up Standard are the two most recent blocks plus the core set. This means players are constantly opening booster packs from sets that are Standard legal and have the cards needed to play in their collection. These are the sets that also make up the Draft format at the time so players are typically opening packs that they can use to build Standard decks from.
It is also one of the least expensive constructed formats to build a competitive deck in.
The release schedule for Magic: the Gathering determines which sets are Standard legal. Magic cards are released in sets four times each year. Up until 2015, Wizards of the Coast organized the schedule into one block of three sets and one core set released in the summer each year. Going forward the release schedule will be two blocks with two sets each.
The Standard format rotates. Each year a new block is released and the oldest block rotates out. This means that players can no longer use the cards from the oldest block to build their Standard decks and must acquire new cards to play. This keeps the format fresh and entertaining. Over the course of the year starting in the fall, new sets are released and the card pool becomes larger so Standard is a constantly shifting environment.
Deck construction: Each player must have a minimum 60 card deck, up to 15 cards in their sideboard, and no more than 4 copies of any individual card between their main deck and sideboard. There aren't any banned or restricted cards in the Standard format but it does occasionally happen.
The second most popular constructed format, Modern is relatively new and was introduced a few years ago. It was WotC's effort to create an Eternal format that they could support with reprints. Modern is so named because all the legal sets in the format have the modern card frame that was introduced with Eighth Edition and Mirrodin. All cards except a select few printed since then are legal to play in Modern tournaments.
The Eternal part refers to a non rotating format. Unlike Standard, Modern only grows larger with each new set release. In addition to each set released Modern is also supported through reprints of cards from older sets no longer in print. Other than the card pool, this is the major difference between Modern and Legacy. An example of reprinting cards specifically for the Modern format is the Modern Masters set released in 2015.
Deck construction: Each player must have a minimum 60 card deck, up to 15 cards in their sideboard, and no more than 4 copies of any individual card between their main deck and sideboard. The list of banned cards for the Modern format can be found here, none of these cards are legal for tournament play.
Legacy is similar to Modern except all card sets are legal for tournament play. Legacy is an older format characterized by powerful combos and cheap, interactive game play. Next to Vintage, Legacy is one the most expensive formats to acquire cards for. This makes playing the format prohibitive for many players and is a reason for the creation of Modern as an alternative.
Wizards has a no reprint policy in place for cards found in the official reprint policy page. Since many of the important cards in the Legacy format are on the no reprint list, the price of the format tends to keep increasing each year.
Deck construction: Each player must have a minimum 60 card deck, up to 15 cards in their sideboard, and no more than 4 copies of any individual card between their main deck and sideboard. The list of banned cards for the Legacy format can be found here, none of these cards are legal for tournament play.
Vintage is Magic in its most potent form. Vintage is a format where players can play with every card printed except for a select few. This includes the famed Power Nine, the nine most powerful cards ever printed. Vintage is characterized by very powerful strategies and early turn combo kills.
The Vintage format has a small but dedicated following. This is due to the fact that to compete in a Vintage tournament a player generally needs to have many of the most expensive cards in the game to be in their deck. That and the tiny supply of these cards means that Vintage is by far the most expensive format to play.
Deck construction: Each player must have a minimum 60 card deck, up to 15 cards in their sideboard, and no more than 4 copies of any individual card between their main deck and sideboard. The list of banned and restricted cards for the Vintage format can be found here, none of these cards are legal for tournament play.
Limited events are different from constructed events. Players don't need to bring their own cards to play in the tournament. Decks are built at the beginning of the event out of a limited pool of cards. They are a popular way for players to gradually build their collection and play competitively at the same time. Limited is also a great casual format. A group of players can buy a booster box and spend an afternoon drafting rather than building decks beforehand.
A Draft is a tournament where each player is handed three booster packs at the beginning of the event. The packs are normally from the most recent set. This is why limited events synergize so well with Standard.
The players are organized into pods of 8 and seated, preferably randomly around a table. The draft starts and each player opens one booster pack. Each player looks at the cards in their pack and chooses one to add to their card pool. The remaining cards are put into a pile and passed to the player on their left. Each player then looks at the next pile of cards in front of them and chooses one of those, placing it into their card pool and passing the rest. This pattern continues until each player has a stack of cards in their card pool and there are no more piles moving around the table.
Then each player opens a second booster pack and continues the same procedure except this time they pass the cards to their right. Once the second pack is completed, the players open the third a pass the cards again to their left.
After each pack is completed the players have a chance to review what cards they have picked but during the draft they are not allowed to look at their card pool. All picks should remain secret and none of the players should be able to see what the others have chosen.
At the end of the third booster pack, each player will have somewhere between 42 and 45 cards in their card pool. Each player will then split up and build a 40 card deck out of the cards they have chosen. Basic lands are considered unlimited and are not part of the card pool so as a general rule of thumb, each player chooses 22 or 23 cards that will make up the spells and creatures in their deck and the remaining cards are basic lands.
The players in the event are then matched up against one another and then play their draft decks against each other.
Drafts normally use packs from the most recent block but that doesn't always have to be the case. There are many different variations of the format that use packs from older sets, or custom packs of cards.
Cube Draft in particular is a favourite of both casual and competitive Magic players. Cube drafting involves packs made up out of the most powerful cards in Magic history, or they could be all uncommons. Cube is popular because it can be tailored to each players preference and once the Cube is built, it can be used over and over again, unlike booster packs that are consumed once they are opened.
For more info on Cube drafting and building your own Cube check out Cubedrafting.com's guide on how to build a cube.
Deck construction: Limited events require minimum 40 card decks, all cards not in a player's maindeck are in their sideboard. Players may play any number of copies of the same card instead of the normal limit of 4.
Sealed is the other variation of the limited format. In a sealed event each player is handed six booster packs which they then open and build a 40 card deck out of much like a Draft. The packs used in a sealed event are normally from the most recent block but this doesn't always have to be the case.
Deck construction: Limited events require minimum 40 card decks, all cards not in a player's maindeck are in their sideboard. Players may play any number of copies of the same card instead of the normal limit of 4.
Commander has been around for years. It was once called EDH or Elder Dragon Highlander before it became an officially sanctioned format for Magic. A game of Commander usually involves four or more players and plays very differently from other Magic formats.
To build a Commander deck a player must first choose their commander. Commanders can be any Legendary creature from any set. The commander's colours restrict the colour of cards that can be played in the deck. A commander with only red mana symbols on its card means that only red or colourless cards can be played in that deck. Commander decks must also contain exactly 100 cards. 99 plus the commander and each card other than basic lands must be different. That's why it was originally called Highlander, there can only be one.
Due to the size of the decks and the fact that there is only one copy of each card Commander is a wild and varied format. No two decks are alike. This leads to games that are unpredictable, especially when games are played with more than two players.
In addition to determining a deck's colours, the commander occupies a special zone during game play. The commander can be played from the Command Zone as if it were played from a player's hand and if a commander dies, it returns to the command zone. This makes commanders a very important part of how games will play out.
Players begin games of Commander with 40 life instead of the usual 20, this creates longer games with more opportunity for interaction. Commander is a popular casual format but isn't well suited to competitive play.
Tiny Leaders is the newest casual format. It has a lot of similarities to Commander but has very different restrictions on deck building that make the format more aggressive. A Tiny Leaders deck has a Commander and has the same colour restrictions except the commander must have a converted casting cost of 3 or less.
The other basic rules are:
- The decks must be 50 cards, 49 plus the commander.
- Each card must have a converted casting cost of three or less.
- One copy of each card except for basic lands.
- Players start the game with 25 life
There are many ways to play competitive Magic. Players have access to a variety of events held in their local game store each week, Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifiers are held all over on a regular basis, and if the players want to travel there is usually a Grand Prix relatively near by.
Below are the basic types of tournaments that game stores and event organizers use broken down into three categories. Scheduled, Special, and Premier. Generally only the first two categories are available to most organizers and only a select few will ever host a Premier event.
The format of every tournament is chosen by the tournament organizer, frequently referred to as the TO. The format for basic Scheduled events can be nearly whatever the TO feels like whereas the formats for Special and Premier tournaments are almost always exclusively the most popular ones; Standard, Modern, Sealed, and Draft with the occasional Legacy.
A special note about the Draft format. Drafts are not well suited to large numbers of players, they can be logistically difficult to manage and require a large judge staff to handle. This is why Drafts are normally used in the Top 8 of a Sealed format tournament once the swiss rounds are over. The exceptions to this are the Premier events like day 2 of a Grand Prix or the Pro Tour. These events always have a massive number of judges to handle to large number of pods involved.
How does a tournament work?
Sanctioned Magic tournaments use the Swiss rounds system and a program created by Wizards of the Coast known as Wizards Event Reporter which you can find here. Swiss rounds are a method of pairing competitors together for matches that do not involve single elimination from the event. In each round of a Swiss Magic tournament all players participate and are paired against other players with the same record or score. The system avoids pairing players who have played against each other in a previous round.
Draws can complicate the Swiss system which is why virtually all Magic tournaments are managed through WER.
The number of rounds is determined by the number of players in the tournament with the minimum usually being 8 players and 3 rounds. For example:
# of Rounds
Tournament organizers may also opt to do a cut to the top 8 or top 4 competitors after the completion of the Swiss rounds. These playoff rounds are always single elimination and determine the final standings of the tournament.
Each tournament type also has a Rules Enforcement Level or REL associated with it that determines how harshly infractions are dealt with by judges. The three levels of enforcement are Regular, Competitive, and Professional. For the vast majority of events you will organize at your store you will only need to be familiar with Regular and Competitive, Professional is reserved for the highest levels of play.
For a more detailed look at REL check out the Magic Infraction Procedure Guide.
The Wizards Play Network
The WPN is the program your store must be enrolled in in order to access most of the events on this list. There are four levels for retailers within the WPN program, each level grants your store additional promos and prize support as well as access to the most exclusive events. The higher levels also get a higher allocation of special products like the From the Vault series and Modern Masters.
The four levels are Gateway, Core, Advanced, and Advanced Plus.
For more information on joining the WPN check out this page here.
Scheduled Tournament Types
These tournaments make up the bulk of the events you will hold in your LGS. They encompass all the possible ways to play a structured game of Magic.
A Non Sanctioned Tournament is a tournament that doesn't follow the basic rules of other tournament types. This could be an event where players start the game with 30 life, and draw three cards a turn, or the banned list is heavily customized by the organizer. Essentially house rules. These events don't have a format recognized by Wizards of the Coast and are therefore unsanctioned. This means that points earned during the course of the event do not add to a players Planeswalker Points total.
Sanctioned tournaments are the opposite of the above, they are any event with an official Magic format that doesn't fall into another tournament type. These are the Tuesday night Modern events and Thursday night Drafts. Every tournament listed below is a Sanctioned Tournament, they just have a special context that makes them unique.
Sanctioned tournaments award Planeswalker Points to each player that competed in the event equal to the number of points they earned playing. Planeswalker Points is WotC's system for awarding byes to players for Premier events like Grand Prix. You can find more information on the official Planeswalker Points site.
Friday Night Magic or FNM is a special, Wizard's sponsored tournament type. As the name implies FNM can only be scheduled on a Friday night but this restriction comes with a few advantages. Local game stores that are registered with Wizard's Play Network and hold FNM tournaments are given a certain amount of promotional foil cards to give out to FNM players each week. The foil card changes each month and is frequently a sought after card from the current Standard environment.
These are provided at no cost to the organizer but they add quite a bit of value to the tournament, this and the focus on a more casual, friendly experience has made FNM one of the best ways to introduce newer Magic players to the competitive community. Combined with the fact that FNM can be almost any format and you have the most widely attended tournament in Magic.
Friday Night Magic is held at Regular REL.
Special Tournament Types
These tournaments are the ones that will occupy the weekend slots in your schedule. They are the less frequent events with higher than normal stakes that will draw in a larger number of players.
A Grand Prix Trial is an event that is meant to increase awareness and excitement for an upcoming Grand Prix. A GPT usually has the same format as the associated Grand Prix and are billed as an opportunity to practice for the big show but this doesn't have to be the case.
The first place winner of a Grand Prix Trial is awarded two first round byes to the associated Grand Prix in addition to any other prizes from the event.
Grand Prix Trials are held at Competitive REL.
A Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifier or PPTQ is the first step on the path to the Pro Tour, the most prestigious tournament in Magic. PPTQ's are organized by local game stores and can be held in store or at a different location if the turn out is expected to be too high. Nearly any player not already qualified for a Regional Pro Tour Qualifier can participate in a PPTQ.
The simplified path looks like this:
Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifier: Winner >> Regional Pro Tour Qualifer: Top 4 >> Pro Tour
PPTQ's award the first place winner an invite into the Regional Qualifier in addition to other prizes determined by the organizer.
Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifiers are held at Competitive REL.
A Prerelease Tournament is one of the most exciting events in Magic for most players. A prerelease is the first chance to play and win with cards from the newest set before the can even buy the cards in store.
A prerelease has a fun, casual atmosphere that brings in players the other tournaments won't, players who are brand new as well as some who haven't played for a decade. The appeal of a prerelease is due to its relaxed style but also its unique structure.
Prerelease tournaments and release tournaments function very similarly. They are a special Sealed format event that uses seeded packs to help players build their decks. When a player registers for the tournament they are given a choice of what style of deck they want to play. For example, with Khans of Tarkir players chose which Khan's clan they were playing for. Each player received a box with one seeded pack and five regular booster packs as well as some promotional materials for the new set.
Each seeded pack had cards from that clan's three colour identity, this increased the odds of those colours being powerful in that particular card pool. It also contained a promo foil card of one of that clan's rares for the set that could be used during the tournament.
This unique tournament structure makes prerelease and release tournaments some of the best events to introduce new players to Magic with and bring lapsed players back into the fold.
Prerelease and Release tournaments are held at Regular REL.
Game Day is a Standard format tournament that happens shortly after the release of the newest set. Participating players receive a special full art promo card from that set and players who make it to the top 8 receive a different foil full art promo card. On top of all that the winner of the event receives a Game Day Champion playmat.
All of the promotional materials are provided by Wizard's and make Game Day events a great option for local game stores.
Premier Tournament Types
The events listed here are for informational value mostly as the average tournament organizer will never run one. They are the biggest and most selective events in Magic. That doesn't mean that they have no impact on you as a store owner and organizer. These are the events that give many of the tournaments you hold extra value.
Players will travel to your event because they directly lead to an opportunity to play on a bigger stage for bigger prizes. Understanding the ascending nature is important to figuring out what your players respond to and want from the competitive experience your store offers.
The Regional Pro Tour Qualifier is an invite only event. To participate in one a player has to have won a PPTQ that season, be a Silver level Pro or higher, or be in the Magic Hall of Fame. No easy feat.
RPTQ's are held around the world near the end of each Pro Tour season. Invited players will travel from all over in order to win one of the top 4 slots and a plane ticket plus invitation to the Pro Tour.
RPTQ's are one of the two primary ways players qualify for the Pro Tour for the first time. The number of players questing to join the Pro Tour has gotten so large that up until recently, it was a one step process with just Pro Tour Qualifiers.
Wizards had to break PTQ's down into a two tier system to reduce the strain on tournament organizers and prevent tournaments with 400 plus players showing up to win what was in essence, a single prize.
Regional Pro Tour Qualifiers are held at Competitive REL.
A Grand Prix is the largest Magic tournament type hands down. Spanning two days and offering a minimum of $35 000 in prizes, Grand Prix attract thousands of players to compete. The top 8 of the tournament also earn an invite and a plane ticket to the Pro Tour making Gran Prix events the second primary way new players qualify for the Pro Tour.
Due to their size and limited nature, there are only so many Grand Prix each year, Wizards uses a few select companies that specialize in event organization to manage them. Your typical local game store does have the opportunity to be a vendor however. Contact the organizer of the specific Grand Prix to find out more about applying to become a vendor.
Grand Prix are held at Competitive REL on the first day and Professional REL the second day.
The Pro Tour is the big show, the most prestigious tournament in Magic where the best players in the world compete. With a prize pool of $250 000 a Pro Tour has a lot on the line. Wizards of the Coast organizes four Pro Tours each year. They coincide with the release schedule of each set and the results of each one shape the metagame for weeks afterwards.
The Pro Tour is the reason many players begin playing competitively, it encompasses the dream of becoming a professional Magic player.
Of course, the Pro Tour is held at Professional REL.