A Guide to Alternative Magic: The Gathering Formats, by Scott Ferguson

A Guide to Trading Magic: The Gathering Cards Online Safely by Scott Ferguson

A Guide to Alternative Magic: The Gathering Formats

Hello fellow Magic minions.

Magic: The Gathering is about evolution and it is a constantly changing landscape. With new formats, new sets, new rule changes, new themes, new ban list changing how the game looks, feels and plays. This is part of the reason why so many people enjoy the game it never really gets stale. Some people like multi player variants, some are tournament mad, some like limited, some like alternative build formats such as Commander or Tribal. Some just like to collect.

I’ve been playing Magic: The Gathering since the beta release and over the years I have talked to clubs and play groups from all over England and America who all have made different variations of the formats. So I thought I would share what I have discovered.

A lot of the following formats use cards from release such as Archenemy. You can always print digital ones out if you cant acquire the real ones. So with out further ado I introduce you to the multi multi-verse!


Dark Blessing

Archenemy DecksThis is the regular Commander variant but using the Archenemy deck. The deck is in the middle of the table and at instant speed a player can pay half of their total life (rounded up) to turn the top card over and resolve the effect.

Just like beseeching your god for aid in your darkest time and they reply with a massive game changing spell. Played early you risk lowering your life total which may get you ahead in the game or leave you weakened. Or do you wait until you really need it? I’ve personally played this and I like it.



This is a format where your deck construction is different; you have a maximum of 100 cards in your library like commander BUT in Commander you have a card limit of 1 only. In UN-limited the card limit is removed completely, just like all you spells are like relentless rats! I prefer RELENTLESS for a format name for this personally.

The Shadowborn Apostle decks are very popular in commander at the moment and utilise a lot of cards such as Thrumming stone to generate card advantage. This format is very similar to said decks but is very fun to design around. Another big change to this format is you start with a life total of 50. This was designed to stop full Lightning Bolt style decks from dominating.


The Deck Of Many Things

(A nod to the Magical artefact of the same name in Dungeons & Dragons for those who know)

This was a format used before the planes were released in casual kitchen table games. A separate deck is made and sits in the middle of the table (I have heard of people using cubes for this. This is your deck of many things.

This deck only has cards in that that effects all for example Wrath of God or Cataclysm, at any time during your turn you can roll a dice on a 6 you turn the card over and resolve it as it was just cast but only once a turn.


High Market / Bizzare of Bagdad

Again a multi-player format. Again a universal deck in the middle but constructed of 100 card (some folks use Cube cards).

During a player’s 1st main phase they role a dice.

On a 4, 5, or 6 the top card of the deck is turned over.

Players then get the chance to bid for the card. The starting bid is the converted mana cost of card and the player whose turn it is gets first bid then its open to the rest by paying extra mana for it. Like hiring creatures to aid you.

I would suggest that the market deck is permanent cards only. Some folk use the Sinbad card and when it is drawn all bought permanent cards are shuffled back into the market deck.


Shields Up

This variation is based on the card Delaying Shield.

Decks are constructed as normal in any format, but 5 cards extra are allowed in your main deck.

After you have chosen to keep your hand or Mulligan 5 cards are dealt from your library face down and are placed still faced down on the field (some put them below lands or above the permanent zone).

Each time you take a damage you can place a Shield counter on any of the cards. Once a single card gets to 4 counters they are removed, and the card is played without playing its mana cost , and lands are just put into play but do not count towards your land limit per turn. These shield cards are not permanent whilst face down and cannot be targeted in anyway.



Classic is the opposite of Modern. In Modern the only cards that are legal to use are cards with a new border or have been reprinted from old sets into new ones.

Classic only uses OLD bordered cards and has the same ban list as Legacy. This in my opinion is the most interesting to builds decks in but isn’t always the most accessible to new players.  But I bet us oldies get a kick out of it.



I like to see Magic: The Gathering being used in many ways especially with all the cards that are released like Archenemy not being wasted.

Triples a crazy crazy format. Played either in duel or multi player.

At the beginning of the game you are dealt 3 random cards.

1 Vanguard card (here) or avatar as its called on MODO. You then alter your life and hand size accordingly.

1 Planes card from plane chase supplement (here).

and one card from the Archenemy product dealt face down (here).

The planes are all in play at the same time and are kept in the Commander zone with you avatar, which plane that is active is decided by rolling a dice at the beginning of your upkeep, this is fighting for control of your plane. On a 5 or 6 your plane is active and the last plane is deactivated. However when a plane is activated its triggered ability is also activated as the power of a planes walk kicks in.

Your vanguards are also active at all times, and the arch-enemy card can be activated only once and only when you drop below 10 life.


Chaos Magic

This is a really crazy format and many cards that we would use in duals just are not good enough for it.

A lot of the rules for Chaos Magic are used to make it accessible to all players.

So you have a starting life total of 50, that’s cool, give you chance to really get into the game without Aggro build destroying you.

An alternative win condition is used, once the first player dies each player counts his or her life total the one with the most wins! The twist is life totals are hidden! So you never quite know what each person has. This means killing a player on low life when you not in a position to win may mean you lose.

Also cards like Congregate suddenly paints a massive target on a persons chest or a last minute win.

Decks have to size limit. Expect long games… or if you go 60 maybe a short game.

Card limit of 4 is lifted.

Politics like in many multi player formats is very important.

Oh yeah I forgot to tell you… Ante is used as an option. I really like using ante in this format as it stops people from putting in all the most expensive cards they have and ripping everyone up as they stand a chance of losing it especially with the inflation in cards on the secondary market the past few years.

This format has been one of my favourites as it changes how you use strategy in a game.

Ante is face down , life total is hidden and you never know what person is going to use.

It also mean you get the chance to use cards in your collection that you would normal class as junk.


For Keeps – What is Ante?

In the Magic the Gathering novel written by William R Forstchen, combatants in the arena in the book put up a ante of spells or amulets and the winner of the dual expands his collection of spells by winning and thus expands his powers. In the days before we walked the planes flinging spells everywhere, we, the players were but humble wizards duelling it out increasing our powers.

Here is what the comprehensive rules say about Ante

407. Ante

407.1. Earlier versions of the Magic rules included an ante rule as a way of playing “for keeps.” Playing Magic games for ante is now considered an optional variation on the game, and it’s allowed only where it’s not forbidden by law or by other rules. Playing for ante is strictly forbidden under the Magic: the Gathering Tournament Rules (here).

407.2. When playing for ante, each player puts one random card from his or her deck into the ante zone after determining which player goes first but before any player draws cards. Cards in the ante zone may be examined by any player at any time. At the end of the game, the winner becomes the owner of all the cards in the ante zone.

407.3. A few cards have the text “Remove [this card] from your deck before playing if you’re not playing for ante.” These are the only cards that can add or remove cards from the ante zone or change a card’s owner.

407.4. To ante an object is to put that object into the ante zone from whichever zone it’s currently in. The owner of an object is the only person who can ante that object.

In the games where I have played ante we have always ante’d the card after mulligans have happened so the ratio of cards to lands is unaffected in your opening hand.

Also we used the a house rule where if you didn’t want to put the card in you could remove it from the game and ante 2 instead.

The only cards that ante appears on are as follows with the sets they’re from.

Amulet of Quoz (Ice Age)
Bronze Tablet  (Antiquities, Fourth Edition)
Contract from Below  (Alpha, Beta, Unlimited, Revised)
Darkpact  (Alpha, Beta, Unlimited, Revised)
Demonic Attorney  (Alpha, Beta, Unlimited, Revised)
Jeweled Bird  (Arabian Nights, Chronicles)
Rebirth  (Legends, Fourth Edition)
Tempest Efreet  (Legends, Fourth Edition)
Timmerian Fiends  (Homelands)


So hope you all give them ago. If you have any others variants please comment or find me on Facebook and I’ll add them to the next article.

Thanks for reading, thanks for sharing,


A Guide to Alternative Magic: The Gathering Formats, by Scott Ferguson
I've been playing Magic: The Gathering since the beta release and over the years I have talked to clubs and play groups from all over England and America who all have made different variations of the formats. So I thought I would share what I have discovered.

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