If there's one thing I love to talk about when it comes to Magic, it's the game's long and storied history. I feel like I've gotten a number of opportunities to dive pretty heavily into that over the last year or so between releases like Dominaria United and The Brothers' War coupled with my coverage of Classic Commander. I've been playing for a long twenty-four years now and that time with the game has provided me with plenty of memories and experiences to share with you all. Talking about old legends and how Commander looked a decade ago? That's the kind of thing I live for!
So today, I wanted to take a different kind of trip down memory lane and talk about some of Magic's older formats that don't really exist anymore. Some show up in either brief appearances or else in the deepest niche corners of MTG internet, but by and large, they're lost to time. No one talks about them and even fewer are likely to play them as they were meant to be once upon a time. This list is far from the full scope of the game's lost formats and excludes some more recent but still well-known enough like Planechase and Archenemy. With that having been said, let's go into checking out some formats that were long ago left behind.
These days, if I mention drafting to you, I can probably guess what you're thinking of. Three packs, left-right-left, pick a card and pass the pack along, right? Well did you know there are actually numerous different ways to draft? Winston drafting, Pai Gow, heck I've even done Fact or Fiction drafting before. But one that's truly a relic of a bygone era is Rochester Drafting.
In truth, I've never actually played a Rochester Draft myself before. Its heyday was already passing by when I first picked up regular drafting in 2003 with Legions and Scourge, so I never even really heard about it much outside of Magic Online. There it largely sat as a curiosity where I'd see it but never touch it in favor of playing a more traditional draft experience. The way it works is basically rather than packs being passed around they're placed on a table one at a time for the whole table to see and each player individually takes cards from the pack. You then do this for each of 24 packs.
As you can imagine, this becomes a logistical headache and ends up being far more time consuming than a traditional draft. It's no wonder it's long been retired as a format and is largely left as an odd footnote of early Magic that you'll only occasionally find references to in old content such as the original paperback Magic Online strategy guide (yes, it exists, look it up). It did come up a small handful of times in recent years thanks to the anniversary Beta drafts and the like, but that's about it. If you're feeling daring, though, I recommend trying it out when drafting with some friends in person to shake things up a little.
Of all the formats I'm here to talk about today, this is probably the one you're most likely to be familiar with. If you've been around for more than a few years, chances are you've heard about Extended in some capacity. Extended is for all intents and purposes the precursor to Modern. The difference is that while Modern is a non-rotating format with a hard cutoff point, Extended rotated like Standard. It was a format designed in Magic's earlier days in close proximity to Standard as Type 1.X to Standard's Type II, so it makes sense they'd be a little similar. Essentially, you'd have your cards stick around for longer periods of time and thus be viable longer.
The problem was, in the early internet days of Magic, it was really hard to keep track of what sets were legal versus what wasn't. This was due to an irregular rotation period and a longer list of sets that were in play at any given moment. Standard was just cleaner and made more sense, so players would often enjoy that a lot more at a competitive level. Wizards tried to rectify this by turning it into a hard four blocks with a more regular rotation, but the writing was already on the wall. The format was retired in 2012 and was replaced with the Modern format that we know and love today.
If you want a more in-depth look at Extended, I highly recommend checking out Gavin Verhey's Good Morning Magic video on the topic. Personally, I would be interested to see if Extended could make it in a post-MTG Arena world. There's better networking, an easier understanding of what's legal, and it would give players a new way to utilize older cards without relying on Explorer/Pioneer or Historic. As the card pool probably would mirror Pioneer and Explorer pretty closely right now, I don't see it happening, but it would be an interesting possible experiment to try again.
Hey, remember blocks? It almost feels weird that I even need to ask that, to be honest. Blocks saw some tinkering starting with Lorwyn and Shadowmoor blocks, but changed on a much larger scale when Battle For Zendikar truly ushered in the two-set block structure. It only lasted a couple years, however, and starting with Dominaria in 2018, blocks went away completely. While there have been a few releases that were arguably blocks (Guilds of Ravnica through War of the Spark and then both Midnight Hunt and Crimson Vow), it's been almost five years now since the death of blocks.
As a result, you know what no longer exists? Block Constructed. Block Constructed was basically an even more compact version of Standard wherein you could only use cards printed within - you guessed it - a single block. Such a format largely existed only in two spaces: the Pro Tour circuit and Magic Online, and was often seen as a dull experience compared to the other formats that Magic offers players. It did lead to some memorable bannings in specific formats like Lin-Sivvi, Defiant Hero in Mercadian Masques Block Constructed or Lingering Souls and Intangible Virtue in Innistrad block, but outside that, it wasn't very exciting. Even if blocks were to make a comeback in the future (which I doubt), Block Constructed is probably left in the past at this point. It might make for some good fun to look up old formats' decks, though, and make a battle box to play with friends!
Tiny Leaders is a format that lives in the world of memes. If you've been around the circles of MTG social media, you've probably heard it brought up before. But do you really know what it is? Honestly it feels a bit like a fever dream in hindsight, but it was a real format that players made as a Commander variant nearly a decade ago! That's right, long-time timers: Tiny Leaders was formed in 2013. Feeling ancient yet?
The basic gist of the format was that it was Commander except it had the restrictions of being 50 card decks and no cards with a higher mana value than three. The idea was that it would be a bit of a powered down version of Commander and make it a little easier to get into. The problem was that back in 2013, there weren't really a lot of three-mana value commanders to go around. The main Commander format was only really just starting to hit its stride and there wasn't anywhere near the amount of 3-drops we have now. Couple that with the fact that many of the best ones were from Legends and the format gets expensive, stale, and solved really fast.
That's pretty much what ended up happening. The format became solved very quickly with only a very small pool of eligible commanders being actually viable. It also made some primo commander choices like Adun Oakenshield, Angus Mackenzie, and Tetsuo Umezawa shoot up in price. What this ultimately boiled down to was a very flash in the pan format that has since become the meme that we know and love today. I do think it would be very interesting to see what this format would look like now with a greater number of three-mana legends in the mix, but I don't think it would ultimately go anywhere.
If there's one constant of Magic, it's that players really love playing decks centered around a specific creature type. I don't think it's any secret that I'm one of those kinds of players myself, with my signature archetype in several formats being Elves. What some people might not realize is that love stems in no small part from my early days on Magic Online playing the Tribal Wars format.
This online-only format entered the mix in the client's early days, namely given how well it worked with the creature type focused Onslaught dropping so close to the game's initial release. The way this functions is your deck needs to have a third of its contents be of a single creature type. This worked great for the time, when elves, goblins, zombies, clerics, soldiers, and more were packed in at an all-time high. Playing this format on MTGO is what got me interested in Elves and in competitive gameplay in general. Playing gummed up Elves board states where Wellwisher could take your life total to several hundred if not thousands on its own? That was mind-blowing to a 12-year-old Paige.
The format had a following for a long while, but now is largely retired on Magic Online and is often forgotten about. There is still a somewhat dedicated player base who still hosts player-run events on the client, keeping it alive into the modern era. If you love creature-type matters, try it out with some friends and see what you all can make with the given restrictions!
Have you ever played the Momir format before? It was a popular format created on Magic Online as a way to randomly generate creatures for some good casual fun. Nowadays it's come to MTG Arena where it frequents the Weekly Magic slot quite often. It even is popular as a Cube variant, where players come up with pools of different creatures to pick from at random. The way this format was able to start was thanks to Vanguard, a format that utilized a special oversized card that added new rules to the game. You might get a bonus in exchange for a lower life total or starting hand size, or in some cases get higher counts to both of those for the tradeoff of a detrimental effect.
Momir started as simply a unique way to utilize his MTGO Vanguard avatar that you won from participating in the Dissension prerelease. The avatar gave you the famous creature generation ability while also raising your starting health to 24, making it excellent to just stick 60 basic lands into it and see what happens. This player-created format got so popular that it showed up in a lot of ways on the client. There were Momir daily events, Momir queues, and you could eventually even purchase the avatar with a special assortment of promo basics from the shop.
While Momir is probably the most famous iteration of this in recent years, Vanguard dates all the way back to the 90's. Back then, there were the aforementioned oversized cards featuring characters from the Weatherlight Saga as they appeared in the Tempest and Urza blocks. In paper, that was all, but on Magic Online it provided a fun way for players to utilize the avatars they acquired. The abilities stopped appearing on new avatars around Zendikar, marking an end of an era. You can still play on the client or play with avatars in paper, so give it a try sometime if you want to spice up your gameplay a little!
Surprisingly, I actually talked a bit at length about Classic last year in my article titled "Explorer is the New Classic." I say "surprisingly" here because, frankly, I never really thought I'd be spotlighting Classic as the main focus of an article. It was an old and tremendously outdated Magic Online exclusive format that was created out of necessity. Because the game launched with sets from Seventh Edition and Invasion onward, a lot of cards critical to Eternal formats got lost in the shuffle. As a result, there needed to still be a format where people could use every card, and thus Classic came about.
Over the years that followed, MTGO got a large majority of older cards onto the client. The various Masters Edition releases poured in a ton of cards from the game's earlier years prior to Mirage as well as some odd sets like the various Portal releases. From there, we also started seeing a slow drip of releases to get Mirage through Prophecy on the client, which allowed Legacy to get added properly. A few years later, Vintage Masters came out, bringing with it the remaining cards needed for Vintage, and thus Classic was retired completely. Unlike most formats on this list, there's no real way to go back to this, so it's more of an interesting oddity to look back on today. I'd expect Explorer to go down the same path eventually so while that format does share a lot with Pioneer, enjoy the few things that make it different while it lasts.
That's all I've got for today, but there's no shortage of obscure and long-forgotten formats that you may or may not have heard of out there. Formats and variants like Star, Prismatic, and Emperor come to mind pretty quickly - all of which can be a blast to play in their own right. That's to say nothing of the many odd house rule variants that are played all over. My own middle and high school playgroup had one they called "Dragon" where you'd play all lands in your first opening hand and then draw back up to seven cards. It's janky and casual as hell, but allows for fun explosive games you'd normally not be able to play.
At the end of the day, though, it's just that: another odd variant way to play that's lost to time. The old ways are not so easily forgotten, however, and it's always fun to look back at what once was. After all - your favorite format could be next on the chopping block one day and you never know how good you had it until it's gone. Appreciate it while it's still here, because nothing lasts forever.