It’s the calm before the Amonkhet storm, and with everyone in anticipation of a new set to shake up Standard, I’ve decided to wait for the complete spoiler before I provide my own set analysis.
Scrolling through Facebook this week, I couldn’t help but notice dozens of “list your favorite movie from each year you’ve been alive” posts. This gave me the urge to create a best-of list of my own.
Limited has been my favorite form of Magic since I learned to play. From the first day I created a Magic Online account, I’ve probably averaged over a Draft a day since. That’s thousands of Drafts under my belt, which gives me the experience and familiarity to rank the top 10 Draft formats, explain why I love them and, in some cases, how they improved my game. The criteria I’m using are whether these formats are available on Magic Online, and if they’re interesting to draft and play. I’ve been known in the past to draft, look at my deck, and then feel like playing the games were a chore.
Note: I’ll be excluding any form of Cube from these rankings, but obviously the only Cube that matters is Vintage Cube and the rest can kick rocks.
Top 10 Limited Formats
10) Return to Ravnica Block
Return to Ravnica was right around my return to competitive play, and I simply loved the format. Return to Ravnica on its own, and Gatecrash on its own, were a little bit lacking for my tastes, but when Dragon’s Maze was introduced, I was excited to draft because of how easily you could slide into 4c decks with the 1 Guildgate per pack.
This is the origin of my current approach to the modern multicolor Draft format: rare, uncommon, land, common. The rares and uncommons in these formats are so much more powerful than the commons that you simply have to take them over anything and just slide them into your deck regardless of color, and then start to pick up the Guildgates to cast these powerful spells while other players are drafting more linear decks like Gruul or Boros Aggro.
9) Modern Masters 2 (2015)
Modern Masters 2 was one of my favorite Draft formats, but a Draft format that went stale when all the best players were on the same page about 5c Control decks being the best archetype, similar to how multicolor Dimir is the best archetype in Modern Masters 3 (2017).
I had the pleasure of playing this format at the World Championships in 2015, and I drafted the set a lot for that reason, which is probably why I prefer it slightly to Modern Masters (2013). I enjoyed how I learned to bridge certain archetypes by drafting more flexible cards early and finding the open lane in a format full of enablers and payoffs. G/W Tokens would often turn into 5c Control, or B/W Spirits could turn into Affinity by simply taking flexible removal spells early and staking your claim a little later when it was clear which archetype was open.
8) Eternal Masters
This format could be one of my favorites, but I unfortunately didn’t get to Draft it as much as I would have liked because at the time of its release there were no Draft Leagues, so I had to settle for playing mostly Sealed deck.
I really appreciated that there were so few rares that were difficult to interact with and beat. The best Draft decks and Sealed decks were pretty similar in selecting almost exclusively 2-for-1s and removal spells while slowly grinding out the opponent. Generic creatures with no enters-the-battlefield abilities were too weak, and players would often get punished for drafting a deck like G/W Enchantress or B/G Elves.
If I took away one thing from this format, it was the concept of inevitability—a concept I was familiar with before this format, but is one of the most important to master in Limited Magic. Knowing which player will win in the course of a long game, and playing defensively when the long game is yours and more aggressively when it’s not, is a key concept to perfect in Limited.
7) Odyssey Block
Odyssey block Draft was right around the time I felt I was good at Magic. The fundamental reason I love this format was that it taught me the importance of resource management.
Like delirium, threshold gave the graveyard importance, and one of the format’s most difficult to perfect nuisances was simply whether to make a land drop or not. There were tons of ways to discard extra cards, such as Wild Mongrel, creating tension between holding extra lands in your hand to turn on threshold later, or to make land drops for an expensive flashback card like Morbid Hunger.
One of the major downsides of this format, and why it’s not a little higher on my list, was that the gimmick of having more black cards in Torment and fewer black cards in Judgement left a sour taste in my mouth. Gimmick sets are always bad in my opinion, including Legions, the all-creature set, and Alara Reborn, the open-my-pack-on-Magic-Online-and-go-blind set.
6) Mercadian Masques Block
Okay, so this Draft format is a bit of a guilty pleasure. Mercadian Masques block is notorious for being boring and slow with awful creatures, but that’s kind of what draws me to it. This is a format where players were rarely run over by creatures in the early turns, and the games tended to go long, especially when cards like Troubled Healer were involved.
This format taught me how to form a long-term game plan, something that newer players rarely have the pleasure of experiencing because of how poor control is in Standard and how fast Limited formats tend to be these days. Occasionally, we’re still put in situations where the game is going to go long, and both players know it, and this is where it’s important to know the cards in your deck and how they line up against cards in the opponent’s deck.
You’d often be forced to hold your removal spell and take some extra damage from small creatures so that your one answer lines up with their otherwise impossible-to-deal-with threat.
Rebels were obviously overpowered but as all Draft formats do, the power level of any single color will be balanced by how many players move in to that color. That said, draft white if you ever draft this format because Troubled Healer is possibly the best Limited common ever.
5) Invasion Block
One of the original multicolor formats, that makes this set nostalgic for me to draft. I like when the games go long a critical decision can lead you down the path of victory on each turn.
The tension between the limited mana fixing, the powerful removal spells, and setting yourself up for the Apocalypse pack was always a fun dance during the Draft. The worst part about this format was the limited amount of non-green mana fixing.
Whenever this block is on Magic Online, I always draft it a few times and almost never get bored of it.
4) Urza’s Saga Block
Urza’s Saga block was a unique format. Black was so overpowered in pack 1 (Pestilence at common has that effect) while a bit more tame in the other packs. This was a format where black would often be over-drafted pack 1 because of the powerful commons, and you could move into U/W Skies or R/G Beatdown and get paid off big time in later packs.
This format was packed with color hosing cards, even at common. Rune of Protections and cards like Weatherseed Fairies could often take over games on their own. This was the first time we were introduced to the cycling mechanic, and added to cards like Rune of Protection: Black, it made them playable main deck. This format taught me how to draft sideboard cards more aggressively both to hose my opponents and cover all my bases against opponents’ hoser cards.
If I was a R/B deck I’d have trouble beating opposing Runes of Protection or Absolute Law and Grace, so I’d prioritize taking a card like Hush to make sure I had an answer to decks full of these cards even if I had to play it on the splash.
This is one of the sets I wish they’d reintroduce to Magic Online, because I always had a blast drafting it, and it was the first set that truly hooked me on Limited.
3) Time Spiral Block
Time Spiral block covered all the bases combining old cards, old abilities, and new abilities like suspend. The card quality was excellent, and there were tons of lanes to pursue such as Rebels, Thallids, Slivers, and good-stuff decks.
One thing I look for in a good Draft format is powerful commons. I believe powerful commons help balance Limited formats so that almost everyone has high quality cards. Sprout Swarm is an example of a mythic common, a card powerful enough to take over games on its own, and I think Limited formats down the road would be better if commons were closer in power level to rares and uncommons.
2) Innistrad Block
Innistrad was close to being my number one because of how consistently great it was and how many archetypes existed within the framework of the set.
Innistrad had the very obviously busted Spider Spawning strategy going for it, and when Dark Ascension was introduced people seemed to cool off on the format. I still kept drafting the format and loving it, admittedly usually pushing myself into U/G early and often, but occasionally that deck wouldn’t be open, and I had to learn to pivot into another direction with some cards that were undesirable in other archetypes. I would often end up in U/R Spells or U/B Zombies if my U/G Spider Spawning deck went awry.
Others enjoyed many other archetypes in this format like G/W Travel Preparations, R/G Werewolves, U/W Spirits, and U/B Zombies. A bunch of playable archetypes with very little overlap is what I consider the hallmark of a great Draft format.
This set taught me to have a contingency plan when I was trying to “force” an archetype and didn’t get there. I also had one of the most degenerate Draft strategies for a normal Draft format ever, which I really enjoy trying to execute.
1) Vintage Masters
By far my favorite of the Masters formats, Vintage Masters was a great format for linear strategies like Goblins, G/W Auras, R/W Slide Rift, U/G Madness, and off-the-wall strategies like Reanimator.
By far my favorite archetype in Vintage Masters, unlike in Cube, was Storm. Storm was high risk and high reward with only a couple of dependable win conditions, but the deck, when open, was far and away the most powerful strategy. If this format taught me anything, it was how to scrap together a deck that didn’t quite get there, and how to build it to win anyway. Unlike Innistrad, this set wasn’t as forgiving if you moved in and didn’t get there, so I’d often end up with a bunch of Fledgling Djinns and Man-o’-Wars instead of Brain Freezes and Frantic Searches.
Having the unique ability to open Power and play with it in a normal Draft format added to the fun of the format for me. If I were given a choice right now of a format to draft online, Vintage Masters would be at the top of my list.
So that is my rankings for Top 10 Limited formats. Feel free to mock me and hold me accountable as I do have some unorthodox favorite formats, but I’ve learned a lot from some of these older Limited formats on the list, which keeps them near and dear to my heart.
Let me know what your favorite formats are in the comments below!
[Editor’s note: This article originally said that the all-creature set was Scourge. It was Legions.]