A Diagram to Explain the Various Magic the Gathering Formats
2024 March 26

I was struggling to explain the various formats of magic the gathering to my friend, so I made this diagram using d2lang, a nifty diagram creation language. There’s about 5 commonly played formats on paper and then there’s the digital formats. Each format has different card pools and its own banlist to enhance the health of the meta. Each format may also have different set construction rules, but the only special one is commander.

So the main format wizards is pushing is called standard. This rotates the legal sets that are playable every year. Generally wizards releases one new set each quarter. The current standard rotates every 3 years as of right now in September. Generally it completely breaks the meta and helps to keep things fresh. However not every set produced is going to be legal in standard. Last year they produced the Lord of the Rings set which was a direct to modern set.

Pioneer is made up of cards that have all gone through standard since the Return to Ravenica circa 2012. This format has fewer combos and is slightly faster than standard with more complex combos.

The next larger format is called modern which is just about everything since 8th edition excluding certain commander sets and the various commander cards released in each set. This is generally a very fast and powerful format. Its also one of the most expensive formats to play at a competitive level with complex combos. Many oppotunities to abuse the rules and stretch your brain.

The final format is commander which is the only multiplayer format people care about. It has an extra deck construction rule of no duplicates besides basic lands, and decks have a minimum size of 100. You also have a commander which starts the game in a special zone called the command zone. This helps to bring consistency to the pile of jank that you built. There’s also various restrictions on color identity of the cards based on the color identity of the commander.

MTG Formats Diagram

The diagram above attempts to explain the set legality. Sets (the 3 letter names printed at the bottom of cards) are ordered by the time they would rotate out within standard and in release order for that year. Only certain selected sets are shown in the diagram above to illustrate certain requirements. Unfortunately it’s not easy to explain how reprint sets work here, especially since we just had a couple of reprint sets whose cards include legality in multiple formats. This is accurate as of March 26, 2024 and will not be updated in the future to keep pace with the release schedule of wizards. This is for your use to understandard the rotation and card legality within formats.

At the end of the day it’s generally best to just look up legality on scryfall if you have any questions, and there’s always the possibility that there’s an exception to a rule explained above. Have fun playing magic!

Diagram Source Code

commander: {

  modern: {
    mh1 -> mh2 -> mh3

    pioneer: {
      return_to_ravenica -> future_standard

      standard: {
        direction: down
        mid -> vow -> neo -> snc
        dmu -> bro -> one -> mom
        woe -> lci -> mkm

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Written by Henry J Schmale on 2024 March 26
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